Diversity Matters: Putting students on the right path

December 7, 2017  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

As a recent undergraduate student at U-M, Sheena Bahroloomi often found it difficult to keep her grades up due to a combination of factors — including a challenging workload, a lack of confidence in her academic abilities and other personal obligations.

“Even though I always knew that I wanted to be a physician, there were definitely times where I questioned the path that I was on,” said Bahroloomi, a U-M graduate who is now interviewing at medical schools across the country. “In 2013 and 2014 — when I was a freshman and sophomore — my struggles in science classes clouded the clear vision I once had regarding my ambition to become a doctor.”

Fortunately, Michigan Medicine offered Bahroloomi a chance to get where she wanted to be.

L-R: Sheena Bahroloomi, R. Alexander Blackwood, M.D., Ph.D., and Othelia Pryor, Ph.D.

Meeting the route to success

As a student who was already working closely with Michigan Medicine’s Office for Health Equity and Inclusion (OHEI), Bahroloomi scheduled a meeting with R. Alexander Blackwood, M.D., Ph.D., faculty lead for the Leaders and Learners Pathways Program.

The Pathways program was developed in 2014 and is designed to elevate all students, including underrepresented populations, in highly-competitive fields. Pathways is comprised of two components: The Michigan Health Sciences Summer Institute, which prepares high school students, undergraduates and recent college graduates to succeed in the health sciences; and a robust mentoring program.

Through mentoring, both faculty and staff members offer academic and professional guidance, including assistance in preparing med school applications and inspiring confidence within students.

“While I had heard about the great guidance and support Dr. Blackwood and other mentors associated with the Pathways program had provided to many of my peers, I still somehow felt that our conversation would be focused on the research projects that I was working on at the time,” Bahroloomi said. “But to my surprise, Dr. Blackwood asked me about everything — my background, my grades, my extracurricular activities, my reason for wanting to be a physician, what health equity and inclusion meant to me and why I thought diversity in medicine was important. It was refreshing to hear a faculty member so interested in my future.”

Lifting students up

Blackwood and others at OHEI oversee all Pathways-related programs.

“Our goal within Pathways is to diversify the future of health care, as well as uplift the needs of any students who are struggling,” said Othelia Pryor, Ph.D., senior project manager for the program. “The work coming out of OHEI is so important because it makes a significant impact within the lives of those whose potential and talents have oftentimes been discarded or discounted by many things, including societal factors.”

“Without the proper guidance, many students struggle to reach their full potential for a variety of reasons,” said Blackwood. “That is why providing support through our meetings is so important.”

Looking to the future

To this day, Bahroloomi credits that first meeting with Blackwood as “the day that dramatically altered the course of [her] life.”

“Even though the classes I was taking as an undergraduate were getting increasingly more difficult, my grades began to improve due to Dr. Blackwood’s encouragement and my restored sense of purpose,” Bahroloomi said. “Within two years of my involvement with OHEI — and Pathways mentorship, more specifically — my science grade point average increased by 0.5, and my passion and appreciation for medicine began to thrive again.”

Bahroloomi eventually participated in ten research projects on a wide-range of subjects, including predicting wound complications with pre-operative CT scans, identifying risk factors for breast cancer within the Arab-American population and assessing the effects of proper education and training on adolescent responses to disclosing sexual assault.

“Historically, mentoring is designed for the mentee to garner guidance for their future success,” said Blackwood. “However, the reality is that if you are a good and effective mentor, you will personally become aware of things you wouldn’t normally be exposed to. Through my work with Sheena and other talented students, I have been able to grow. I now have new perspectives on cultures that are significantly different from my own, as well as various insights on how young individuals think — this work is so important to everyone, on every level.”