Set up for success: Mentorship program helps area youth pursue careers in health care

May 21, 2019  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

As Benjamin Case was finishing up his freshman year at Ann Arbor Huron High School, he had no idea that he was about to embark on a journey that would change his life.

“It was 2007 and my teacher slipped me a note and asked me to stay after class,” Case said. “When I did, I was given information about a mentoring program at U-M. I can honestly say the program led me down an incredible path to where I know I’m making a difference in the world.”

Benjamin Case

Soon, Case would become one of hundreds of Ann Arbor students who have participated in the Michigan Medicine Youth Mentoring Program. Others, such as Aleigthea Telfair and Tiere Emerson, joined the program in the years after Case.

All were chosen by their high school counselors for demonstrating good attendance, academic excellence and an interest in post-secondary education. And all have used the program as a springboard to successful careers both at Michigan Medicine and across the globe.

Learning valuable skills

The program, which is administered by Human Resources, began in 1993 and provides mentorships, internships and professional development opportunities to select Ann Arbor high school students, most of whom come from at-risk economic backgrounds.

Students commit to three consecutive summers on campus. The first summer involves a month-long session known as the Student Enrichment Program.

“As a high school kid, you don’t know much about anything outside your school,” Case said. “But this program let us participate in workshops and seminars that taught us about professionalism, leadership and how to act in a work setting.”

The next two summers are known as the Summer Internship Program, and involve students working directly within clinics or offices.

Telfair, for instance, was assigned to a clinic at Domino’s Farms and then as an office assistant in the Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

Aleigthea Telfair

“It was such a hands-on experience, I couldn’t help but soak up information,” Telfair said. “For instance, in the CVC, I learned data entry and other important skills.”

Emerson, meanwhile, worked in the CVC for both summers, while Case spent time in various clinics within Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

“I felt so fortunate to be exposed to health care at such a young age,” Emerson said. “It showed me what individuals in a diverse environment filled with incredible resources can achieve.”

‘A foot in the door’

Outside of work skills, students in the program earned a few other perks, as well.

“This program really helps you get a foot in the door,” said Telfair, who ended up landing a job at Michigan Medicine right after high school. “I don’t think I would have been hired had this program not been on my resume.”

Eventually, Telfair went back to college and now works as a medical assistant in radiation oncology.

Emerson, too, is fairly certain that she would not be here had it not been for the program. She is currently a nurse on 6C at University Hospital.

Tiere Emerson

“During my time in the program, I shadowed a doctor who works with sickle-cell patients,” Emerson said. “It inspired me to go after a nursing career, and I’m currently pursuing a nurse practitioner degree. The mentoring program led me down that path.”

A research angle

Case’s experience also steered him toward a career in health care — but not in a clinical setting. He ended up enrolling at U-M as an undergraduate and his previous ties to the organization spurred him to work in a research lab and then as a research assistant in family medicine.

“I’m fully deaf in my left ear and have severe hearing loss in my right ear,” Case said. “I was introduced to [Chair of Family Medicine] Dr. Philip Zazove, who also happens to be Deaf.”

Ever since, Case has helped carry out groundbreaking research into hearing science and admission policies at U.S. medical schools.

“We are trying to see if admissions can be better tailored to students with disabilities,” Case said. While the research work is part-time, he is employed full-time as a research grants coordinator at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Case also previously served for a nonprofit that provided health care services in Honduras and other nations.

How you can host

As the next wave of students prepares to enter the Youth Mentoring Program, Human Resources is seeking departments who are interested in hosting a mentee.

“This is a great chance to invest in the community and give opportunities to kids who need it,” said Hinke Jansen, human resource director at Michigan Medicine. “As Ben, Aleigthea and Tiere have shown, large number of mentees come back to work for the organization, so you may very well be training the next generation of leaders. It’s incredibly rewarding for everyone involved.”

If you are interested in hosting a student, contact HR’s JoAnn Grantham at or by calling 734-936-8710.