“You Are a Solution to a Problem that Exists in the World”: Esperanza Hosts Minorities in Health Sciences Symposium

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Over 110 high school students and 25 college students from across Philadelphia, including many from Esperanza Academy Charter High School, gathered at Esperanza College of Eastern University for the Minorities in Health Sciences Symposium, a day of health science-related lectures and activities, on Friday, Oct. 13.

Rev. Luis Cortes, founder and CEO of Esperanza, kicked off the event by emphasizing the three things students can take care of by pursuing a career in the health sciences: “Your future, your family, and your community.”

Students heard from academic and professional leaders in the field of health science, including Jennifer Alexander, a PhD candidate at Drexel University College of Medicine, Dr. Denah Appelt, a professor of Neuroscience at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr, Fernando U. Garcia, the Medical Director and Service Chief of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine with Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Dr. Nilsa Graciani, the Director of Health Sciences, Medical Assisting, and STEM at Esperanza College of Eastern University, and Arsen Ustayev, the owner of SarahCare Adult Day Care Center. Additionally, Councilwoman Maria-Quinones-Sanchez, spoke about the state of the health science field in Philadelphia.

Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Academic Dean and Vice President of Education at Esperanza College, encouraged the students to believe in what they can accomplish as future doctors, nurses, and researchers.

“Look at your hands,” she urged them. “You are a healer!”

In the afternoon, the students participated in hands-on activities and demonstrations. In one activity, led by Dr. Garcia, they prepared slides for examination under a microscope by extracting cells and staining them. Dr. Andrew Wood from Esperanza College led an activity focused on the function and location of bones. In an anatomy lab, the students rotated between stations led by Dr. Luis Garcia and Professor Mary Klopp of Esperanza College, as well as Dr. Appelt, where they dissected hearts, eyes, brains and a fetal pig.  In the chemistry lab, under the direction of Dr. Javier Arce of Esperanza College, the students isolated and extracted their own DNA, which they placed in necklaces to wear.

Shabeli Rondon, a student at Esperanza Academy, appreciated the message of the symposium. “This is an opportunity to reach out to people who aren’t sure if they want to go to college or not and to introduce them to the science field,” she said. Ms. Alexander’s presentation resonated with her the most. “I liked her story, that she talked about where she came from and how she got to where she is,” Shabeli said.

Ms. Alexander shared about her life growing up in a community not unlike Hunting Park, where opportunities to break into a field like health science weren’t always readily available. She encouraged the students to pursue their dreams, despite the obstacles they might encounter, in order to build better lives for themselves and to help their communities. “You are here because you are a solution to a problem that exists in the world,” she said.

We are grateful to the Symposium’s sponsors, including SarahCare, Health Partners Plans, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Aetna.