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Inspired by her own formative childhood experiences with science and medicine, Schweitzer Fellow Tammy Pham (left) has launched an innovative program aimed at sparking a lifelong interest in those fields.

North Carolina Schweitzer Fellow Tammy Pham, a student at Wake Forest School of Medicine, has created “Project Spark,” an innovative program aimed at encouraging students at Kimmel Farm Elementary to pursue careers in science and medicine.

“There are clear discrepancies in the science scores and grades of North Carolina’s students when comparing various racial and socioeconomic groups,” Pham says, noting that North Carolina has a high school biology exam that students must pass in order to graduate, and that local educators have long speculated that this exam’s difficulty has driven many underserved and low-income students to eventually drop out of high school.

“My project came from the idea that if I could just give students the exposure to various fields of science that they normally would not have access to, they would find a niche within science that would eventually inspire them to excel in their vigorous science classes later on in their academic careers,” says Pham, whose childhood experiences with science and medicine had exactly this effect on her own academic journey.

Initially, Pham planned to work with high school students. But after consulting with her mentor, Dr. Ann Lambros of the Center for Excellence in Research, Teaching, and Learning (CERTL) at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, she decided that she should work with elementary school students in order to plant the seed at an early age.

“The long-term goal,” Pham says, “is that the students will be inspired to become the future science leaders within their communities.”

Today, as part of “Project Spark,” Pham is holding a unique event for 85 Kimmel Farm students at SciWorks — complete with experiential first-aid stations; talks with educators from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and Forsyth Tech‘s Nanotechnology Department; a hospital ambulance exploration; and even a planetarium show.

In addition to providing Kimmel Farm students with a hands-on, outside-the-classroom chance to experience science and talk with community members who’ve forged careers in science and medicine, Pham’s event is forging a valuable bridge between Wake Forest School of Medicine, Kimmel Farm Elementary, and SciWorks. In fact, approximately 30 student volunteers from the medical school will be pitching in  alongside Tammy today.

“Many of the student volunteers will be my classmates and friends, whose support has been invaluable,” Pham says. “Kimmel Farm has also been excited about my entire project — including me teaching throughout the year at Kimmel Farm) from the very beginning — so they have put their full backing behind the event.”

In fact, the food and T-shirts for the event are being donated by Kimmel Farm’s community sponsors. Those community sponsors aren’t the only organizations stepping up to the plate for Project Spark’s event: the Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh is donating its programming services and is providing a speaker for the afternoon sessions. The head of the Forsyth Tech department of Nanotechnology will be coming to speak at the morning sessions. And SciWorks has donated all of the space fees, as well as conducting a planetarium show and scavenger hunt for the students.

“My life and career goals would have been completely different if I had not had exposure to medicine and science at a young age,” Pham says. “To be able to provide that exposure and inspiration for students who perhaps would not otherwise have that exposure is incredibly fulfilling, which I hope the volunteers will feel.”

“I also hope,” she adds, “that the event reminds the volunteers of the idealism that originally inspired many of us to pursue medicine in the first place.”

For a flyer with event details, click here.

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