HSTA camps introduce high school students to My First Patient

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Over the next three weeks, 200 high school students from 26 counties around the state will pass through West Virginia University’s campuses for three different Health Sciences and Technology Academy (HSTA) camps.

Students will be distributed among two week-long biomedical camps and one three-week-long senior camp. The students receive intensive training in math and science and develop a research project that they complete during the academic year and present in their home communities.

HSTA encourages rural ninth through 12th graders to pursue higher education. The program not only helps educate underserved populations but also serves to recruit more scientists and healthcare providers in West Virginia’s medically underserved communities. HSTA students who complete the program earn tuition waivers for West Virginia state-run colleges. These waivers may be used from undergraduate work through professional school in certain majors. More than half the time, HSTA students choose to pursue health-related careers.

“HSTA students are very influential in their families, and so it is inspiring to see them learn and take on new missions to help themselves first, their families next, and then their communities as they increase their STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) capabilities. To watch them see the impact they can have to make things better, that’s really heartwarming,” Ann Chester, Ph.D., HSTA program director and vice-president for education partnerships at the WVU Health Sciences Center, said.

This year’s biomedical camp students will take on a brand new challenge called My First Patient, funded by a grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

My First Patient is part of the professional schools’ student experience. Students in the WVU Schools of Medicine, Dentistry, and Pharmacy become their own first patient for their first year. With the help of those three schools, the program will be taken to the HSTA students. Each student will undergo a thorough health screening, including blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, height, and a dental exam. They will set personal wellness goals, work on them throughout the year, and then return next summer to see if they made progress.

Seventy-three percent of HSTA students are the first in their family to attend college. Of the students who come through HSTA, 92 percent graduate from college, compared to about one third of non-HSTA students statewide.  

“We’ve graduated 2,000 kids, and over half of them ended up in STEM majors. We have doctors, lawyers, dentists, physical therapists; we have veterinarians, we have social workers, and they’re out there giving back to their communities,” Dr. Chester said.

In 2012, HSTA received a renewed pledge of major funding made possible by a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The five-year, $1.3 million NIH grant, “Teaching to Learn,” supports HSTA’s mission while encouraging health promotion in rural areas.

The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation is an independent foundation established in 1944 by Michael and Sarah Benedum, natives respectively of Bridgeport and Blacksville, W.Va. Since its inception, the Foundation has authorized grants totaling more than $395 million in support of specific initiatives in the areas of education, economic development, health and human services and community development.

For more information about HSTA, visit www.wv-hsta.org.