Program encourages teenagers and their passion for pathology

August 20, 2005|By GREGORY KANE

WHAT'S THE city to do about that group of budding pathologists sprouting up in East Baltimore?

Why, nurture them to maturity, of course.

Candice McDonald, Anthony Jordan, Gregory Mason and Tearra Boone want to be microbiologists. Aleshia Patton and James Conway are interested in hematology.

Kelisa Watkins wants to do autopsies, as does Lauren Babcock. Babcock, along with Antonia Anderson, is also interested in anatomic pathology. If Christelle Yemeck and Levina Crumpton have their druthers, they'll both be working in histology after completing school.

Tiaira Wells has a passion for surgical pathology, and Felicia Graves has her sights set on a career in cytology.

All those disciplines are part of the field of pathology, which James Creech, an administrator in Johns Hopkins Hospital's pathology department, wants us all to know is not just dealing with dead folks.

Pathology, Creech told these 13 high school students Thursday, is the study of the abnormal in the living. In a town like Baltimore, there must be a treasure trove of abnormality to study.

But that's not why Hopkins Hospital's pathology department funded the just completed six-week summer program for the students. Hopkins administrators funded the program because of their partnership with Dunbar High School, which is a citywide school with an emphasis on steering students to careers in medicine.

Creech got the funding for the project, which debuted this summer.

Mamie M. Green, the head of Dunbar's science department and a teacher for the past 33 years - three of them at Dunbar - was one of the two program coordinators. The other was Sheila Cleary, an English teacher at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Brooklyn, who hammered home to the students the importance of grammar and writing, even for a career in science.

"The most valuable component of the program is that we had a professional person to work with them in writing," Green said, referring to Cleary.

"It's very important," Cleary said of developing writing skills for students in the program. "If you can't express what you want to in a written manner, you're going to be held back."

Those skills were really needed Thursday, which was the day students in the program - called "trainees" - had to explain their proposals to a panel of judges about a field in pathology they'd like to study further. They also received certificates and awards.

Watkins, who will be a junior at Dunbar when school starts in less than two weeks, told the judges she wanted to investigate whether eczema can be effectively treated with medications that don't contain steroids, "which can cause brain damage and weaken the immune system."

Conway, who graduated from Dunbar in June, proposed looking into whether secondhand tobacco smoke adversely affects plants. He won first place for his proposal.

Crumpton's interest was whether alcohol and methamphetamines affect the brains of teenagers in the same way. Babcock wanted to know whether spinal meningitis causes emotional problems.

Patton wants to deal with a subject that is near but not necessarily dear to my heart: insulin, since I'm now on it. But Patton's proposal - which won second place - is more specific, focusing on whether a particular insulin mixture that teenage girls take leads to unhealthy weight gain.

"I have a couple of friends and they have type 1 diabetes," Patton said. That spurred her interest in the subject. Personal reasons were also motivation for other proposals. Conway said his mother is a smoker and he's curious about how the secondhand smoke will affect him.

Watkins just has an interest in science. She has wanted to be an obstetrician and gynecologist since she was in middle school. The summer training program "gives me a step further in my career and education. The pay was good, but the experience was excellent."

Watkins said students received $1,080 for the six-week program. The school day started at 8 a.m. with an employee from Hopkins coming in and doing a case study of a specific topic - diabetes, cancer or anemia, for example.

At 9 a.m., students went to see Cleary to develop writing skills. At 10:30 a.m., another Hopkins employee showed them how to conduct a lab experiment. Then it was on to Green, who taught them statistics and research skills.

Students also visited the National Dental Museum and labs at Hopkins. Cleary said they wouldn't have received that experience without the summer program.

"This," she said as she stood watching the trainees receive their certificates, "is what you go into teaching for."

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