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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Finding role models in medicine: Program at WSU Spokane inspires high schoolers to explore health sciences

Olga Murillo, left, and Carmen Valencia, listen to stories from former flight paramedic Carrie Brood on Wednesday, June 26, 2019, at Washington State University’s Spokane campus. They were participating in the Dare to Dream Health Sciences Academy, a weeklong program that introduced high school juniors and seniors from migrant families to careers in the medical field. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Medicine is not a field for the squeamish.

Just ask Danna Rosales, a high school senior from Kennewick who had an up-close experience with a human cadaver last week at Washington State University’s health sciences campus in Spokane.

“It was surreal,” Rosales said. “I got to hold a human heart and a human brain.”

Rosales was one of 23 high school students from predominantly small towns across the state who came to Spokane for a weeklong camp called the Dare to Dream Health Sciences Academy. The program counts as high school credit due to the intensive work the students must do. They stayed in the dorms at Gonzaga University at night but spent most of their time on the WSU campus.

Washington’s Dare to Dream academies, hosted at state universities, are open to students who qualify for the federally funded Migrant Education Program. A “migratory child” must be younger than 22 and eligible for public education under state law. Participants also must have moved within 36 months, and they must have a guardian who is a migratory worker or be a migratory worker themselves.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction manages federal funds for the state migrant education program, which helps ensure that kids who are constantly moving from town to town or school district to school district – oftentimes due to their family’s work – do not lose credits and stay in school.

For Dare to Dream, OSPI partners with state universities to host several programs in different academic disciplines throughout the summer.

Rosales moved to a new school every year when she was in elementary school, due to her family’s work. Her mother is an agricultural worker. A coordinator in her school district tapped Rosales to apply for the Dare to Dream program this summer.

The program was intended for students who had already taken some high-level science courses and were on track to graduate.

Rosales easily met the criteria.

She’s in the Running Start program, taking college courses at Columbia Basin College while earning credits toward graduation at Kennewick High School.She will graduate with an associate degree and her high school diploma next year, but as the youngest in her family, Rosales said her parents told her to take advantage of all the opportunities she has.

“I will be the first one to even graduate high school,” she said of her immediate family.

Through the Dare to Dream program, Rosales learned about many potential career paths in the medical field, beyond the jobs of nurses and doctors. She enjoys chemistry, so she was especially interested to hear from a professor in WSU’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Students were paired with current WSU medical and nursing students, who served as mentors for the week.

One of those mentors, medical student Marleny Carmona, grew up in Mattawa, a small, predominantly Hispanic town in southeast Washington.

Carmona said going to WSU in Pullman was a big change for her, in part because the campus was predominantly white. Plus, she was the only one in her friend group bound for medical school.

“I also realized that I didn’t have any Latina mentors in medicine,” Carmona said.

While preparing to apply for medical school during mock interviews, she was often asked, “Who is your role model in medicine?”

“Instantly, I knew,” she said. “It was like a subconscious thing I had in the back of my head: My role model was my future self, because I didn’t know anybody else who looked like me who was a physician or a medical student.”

Carmona said she participated in programs similar to Dare to Dream, though more geared toward leadership, when she was in high school. She said mentors were vital to her success, especially when she got to WSU Pullman to study for her undergraduate degree. There, she took part in the College Assistance Migrant Program, or CAMP, which she said gave her a sense of community.

Just a few years later, Carmona is able to mentor aspiring medical students.

Dare to Dream was designed with the migrant student experience in mind, said David Garcia, WSU’s assistant dean for pathway programs and inclusion. Students learned about and worked on a real case study of a migrant farmworker who was pregnant and made presentations at the end of the week about how health outcomes could be improved.

“We want to make sure that what they’re experiencing here is relevant to their communities and what they experience in Washington state,” Garcia said.

Garcia and Armando Isais-Garcia, who supervises themigrant education health program for OSPI, shaped the curriculum from the ground up, so students could understand how health sciences impact their own communities.

This is the first year that students got to participate in a health sciences program through Dare to Dream, and Isais-Garcia said he hopes that WSU and OSPI can partner again in coming years and expand the program to include more students.

“These students are getting information and access to equipment that most students don’t get until med school,” Isais-Garcia said.

Rosales has not decided what she’s going to do after she graduates in 2020, but her week in Spokane gave her many new ideas. She said learning from the WSU nursing and medical students was a highlight of the week.

“All the mentors there were amazing,” Rosales said. “It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.”

Carmona credits her mentors in college and back home in Mattawa with getting her to where she is today: on a path to becoming a doctor.

“My first year of college, that was really important for me,” she said. “To see people who looked like me and came from places I came from doing well in school, because it made me feel like if they can do it, so can I.”

Editor’s note: This story was changed on July 5, 2019 to correct the spelling of Danna Rosales.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.