Organized by Toniya Brown with the help of several other Bryn Mawr students, the first “Underrepresented Youth in Healthcare” conference brought together about 30 high school students from a number of states. The conference is part of an ongoing initiative called Health Pathways for Latinx, African American, and Native Students (HPLANS).
Brown, a student in Bryn Mawr’s postbaccalaureate pre-med program, put together the initiative with the help of Karen Guo ’22, Genesis Perez-Melara ’19, and several other graduate and undergraduate students from Bryn Mawr and Brown’s alma mater, Duke University.
“Having a program like this in high school would have changed my entire perspective on the state of healthcare and could have started me on the pathway I'm currently on earlier,” says Brown, who double majored in psychology and global health and minored in education at Duke and is a 2020 graduate.
The two-day conference was held over Zoom. The first day focused on health inequalities and health issues that are prominent in Black, Native American, and Latinx communities. The second day focused on connecting the high school students participating in the conference with the graduate and undergraduate students pursuing careers in health care.
Among the participants was Genesis Perez-Melara ’19, who majored in biology at Bryn Mawr and is currently applying to medical school. Perez-Melara learned about the initiative through an email from Bryn Mawr’s pre-health office and jumped at the opportunity to get involved.
“As a first-generation Latina, mentoring minority students in STEM means so much to me because it was programs and conferences like these that helped me get to where I am today,” she says.
Brown originally conceived HPLANS before the Coronavirus pandemic hit and pictured herself partnering with public high schools in Philadelphia to have discussions with the students interested in healthcare/STEM fields when she arrived at Bryn Mawr.
“In my mind, the work would always combine the Bryn Mawr undergrad community since they're closer in age and experience to the high school students than myself and the other postbacs,” explains Brown.
When Brown learned she’d be spending the fall semester learning from her home in Virginia, she switched gears and started thinking of virtual options to get involved.
She reached out to pre-health advisors at both Bryn Mawr and Duke as well as turning to her own network to recruit participants.
“From start to finish, planning and carrying out the conference took four months. In this time we were able to contact several schools, create the website, and create five different presentations for the conference itself,” says Brown.
Perez-Melara and Guo were among the first of many to reach out.
“Genesis volunteered to serve as the Latinx/Hispanic health disparities presenter and Karen volunteered to perform research and communicate with schools. I can’t thank them enough for the incredible work they did to make this conference a reality.”
Brown is planning to make the conference an annual event that will evolve to include other topics and speakers. Her hope is that HPLANS will continue to create a strong network of support and early exposure to health fields for students.
“The ultimate long-term goal would be to get as many underrepresented students as possible interested in healthcare as early as possible,” she says. “The students we saw at the conference are ambitious, intelligent, and hungry for change. We want to help them be the change they want to see in the world.”