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UC medical students offer laptops and mentorship to area schoolchildren

School performance improves with gift

CINCINNATI—Twenty local elementary school students will each receive the gift of a new laptop computer from Med Mentors, a volunteer effort in the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine, during a special ceremony at 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, in the college’s CARE/Crawley Atrium.

UC Med Mentors works with the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative (CYC) to link medical students with Cincinnati Public School children for mentorship. The generous gift of laptops for these schoolchildren is the result of $10,000 in funding from the Clare Family Foundation and medical staff at Cincinnati Children’s.

Charles Cavallo, MD, president of the advisory board for UC Med Mentors and volunteer assistant professor in the UC Department of Pediatrics, says this is the fourth year the program has been able to provide laptops for schoolchildren.

“They have to earn it and have to apply for the laptop,” says Cavallo, also an alumnus of the UC College of Medicine. “The students are nominated by their mentor. The students, their parents and the mentor all sign an agreement to care for the laptop and use it appropriately. It’s theirs to keep, and they can take it home, and they will get a bag, screen cover and protective case along with a warranty to keep it as safe as we can.”

UC Med Mentors was founded in 2001 by Wan Lim, PhD, associate professor emeritus of medical education. The program connects 200 medical students to about 100 school-age mentees and works closely with CYC to train mentors, says Cavallo.

Ericka C. Dansby, President and CEO of the Cincincinnati Youth Collaborative says that the UC Med Mentors program is a great example of the “win-win” scenario that mentoring creates. "Both the med students and the youth that they mentor benefit powerfully from the interaction, each providing learning and experiences that the other may not have been able to have otherwise." 

Mentees come from various schools including several near the College of Medicine, such as North Avondale Montessori School, Clifton Fairview German School, South Avondale School and Rockdale Academy. The mentoring effort at UC targets students in grades three through six though some students stay with Med Mentors for longer periods, says Cavallo.

Sofia Chinchilla is a second-year medical student who is a mentor to Fatimah Carter, a fourth-grader at South Avondale Elementary School. Fatimah received a laptop last year from UC Med Mentors and has made some improvements as a result.

“I think it has taught her a lot about responsibility and making sure she doesn’t lose things and making sure she treats it well. It is like a little incentive for her,” says Chinchilla. “We say, ‘If you read this much, we will let you play on the laptop for a little bit.’ I do think it has helped her in learning how to type, and she has been excelling in her computer science course because of it.”

Chinchilla, who is co-president of UC Med Mentors, says the program benefits mentees and medical students alike.

“I think it is a fun break to kind of hang out with (Fatimah) and kind of see her grow; understanding where she is coming from and what barriers she has is a really big insight into what it is going to be like dealing with future patients,” says Chinchilla.

Robert Toy, a second-year medical student and also co-president of UC Med Mentors, says the program allows medical students to give back to the local community.

“I think medical school can be such a bubble,” says Toy. “Everyone you know is a medical student or someone at the school. You don’t get a good sense of what is going on in the local community. The mentoring program is such a great way to give back and to connect with the greater Cincinnati community. These are kids who are underprivileged, at-risk and could really benefit from our support and mentorship.”

His mentee, Biondi Stevenson, a fifth-grader at Clifton Fairview German School, will get a laptop at this year’s ceremony.

“One of Biondi’s favorite things to do with us is hang out in the Medical Sciences Building (MSB),” says Toy. “We have him finish his homework here, and then he’ll want to head to our student lounge to play the piano, play video games or challenge us to a game of ping pong. The MSB is such an impressive space.”

“The first time he came here, he looked around and said ‘This is where you go to school!?’” according to Toy. “I think it is really important to give these kids exposure to all the resources that we have access to. That way they know what they can look forward to if they push themselves to do well in school. It inspires them to work hard and succeed, no matter what path they might choose.”

Keith Stringer, MD, faculty advisor for Med Mentors, says the program is among the College of Medicine’s most popular outreach efforts.

“Emotionally, you see the smiles of families receiving computers and careful teaching help from medical student role models,” says Stringer, an assistant professor in the UC College of Medicine’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s pathologist.

“Statistically, you see that neighborhood kids who spend time with our medical student mentors do better when it comes to high school graduation rates,” says Stringer. “Clinically, this puts out hundreds of fresh medical doctors with better understanding and competence in important areas involving cultural diversity and social challenges. So for society, the program is a big winner at many levels."

UC Med Mentors has received support from the Charles H. Dater Foundation and the Medical Student Association.