Awar Mou’s mother moved nine of her children from South Sudan to the United States 11 years ago, because she wanted to provide a better education and a better life for them.
“She didn’t want us to have to live the way she did,” Awar, 17, said. “She struggled a lot in South Sudan. When we finally got here two years ago, she found a job as a housekeeper for the Alaska Native hospital.”
Awar started looking toward her own future when she was in the eighth grade, researching anesthesiology for middle school career day. Earlier this year, her friend told her about UAA’s Della Keats Health Sciences Summer Program.
“At first I thought it was a joke,” she said. “There’s no way you can go to a program that would pay you just to go and learn all these amazing things. I applied for it—I thought it would be a good opportunity to see how the medical industry really is.”
Now, through Della Keats, Awar has taken introductory classes in medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, microbiology, biomedical ethics, communication and the scientific method. She’s provided medical care to robotic “patients” at UAA’s simulation lab. Through Della Keats’ job-shadowing opportunities, she’s helped in respiratory therapy, progressive care and a newborn intensive care unit.
“That was really awesome,” Awar said. “I got to hold one yesterday.”
Della Keats helped Awar clarify her goals and start preparing a solid foundation for college.
“Now I know so much,” she said. “There are so many things I could do inside the medical field, but then I could do so many things outside the medical field that still have to do with the medical field. And I didn’t know that. I thought, wait, I could be a lawyer for the medical field? That’s awesome. If I change my mind on being a doctor, I could go outside the box and be a social worker or lawyer or anything I want to be and still be involved in the medical field and have a medical background.”
The Della Keats programs—named for an Iñupiaq woman who became a traditional healer in the Kotzebue area—provide no-cost opportunities for eligible high school juniors and seniors to spend six weeks of their summer in UAA dorms—supervised, no drugs or alcohol allowed—while working full time to job-shadow doctors, nurses and dentists and learn academic skills they’ll need if they aspire to become a health care professional.
To be eligible, students applying must have a grade-point average of 3.0 or above in challenging courses, submit an essay and recommendation letters, and meet one or more of the following criteria:
• Come from an ethnic background that is underrepresented in medicine.
• Live in rural Alaska, off the road system.
• Be a first-generation American.
• Be the first in his or her family to go to college.
• Speak English as a second language.
• Be economically disadvantaged.
The Alaska WWAMI School of Medical Education, Alaska Kidney Foundation and individual private donors provided funding support for this year’s Della Keats programs; the Foundation allowed Della Keats to use money it previously donated to the College of Health, and intends to continue to support both Della Keats programs into the future. “The students were assigned kidney- and diabetes-themed research projects this year in recognition of this gift,” van Tets said.
In-kind support comes from many UAA programs, including Alaska WWAMI and the SIM lab associated with the nursing program.
South Central Alaska Area Health Education Centers, Providence Alaska Medical Center, Orthopedic Physicians Anchorage and Alaska Regional Senior Health Care Clinic provide job-shadowing options for the students.
During their six weeks in Della Keats, the youths had the chance to hear guest speakers and take tours, interacting with people from UAA’s RRANN, NSS, Allied Health and DENTEX programs as well as from the Blood Bank of Alaska, Alaska State Public Health Laboratory and Alaska Community Mental Health Services.
The cost for each student to take the classes and live on campus is approximately $8,000, van Tets said. The money pays for the stipends, travel for rural students, housing, salaries for dorm staff, instructors, administrators, lab supplies, teaching supplies and textbooks.
“When our (DK) graduates do continue on to college, they arrive at college knowing what to expect and with a suite of friends to turn to,” said Dr. Ian van Tets, program director. “For a teenager from a small village, that knowledge and those friends can be a lifesaver—keeping them sane during those first few weeks and months and enabling them to stay the course and go on to complete their degrees.”
Story by Tracy Kalytiak, UAA