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Health Professions Highway, Building on Success

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By Barbekka Hurtt, Teaching Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences

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three women around a medical doll

The Health Professions Highway (HPH) program was honored to receive Public Good grant funding from the Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning (CCESL) to run the HPH program for a second year in summer 2018. This funding allowed Biological Sciences faculty members Barbekka Hurtt and Nancy Lorenzon, along with their College Track collaborator Stephanie Tran, to build upon the success they had started in 2017. The HPH program hosted 15 high school students for one week in Nelson Hall. All of the students were interested in health professions careers and experienced a wide variety of activities related to health professions careers throughout the week. In addition to the high school students, eight University of Denver (DU) undergraduate students who have interests in health professions careers served as mentors for the week.


The DU undergraduate students partnered with the high school students on the evening of the second day of the 6-day program in a mentor inspired “rose-ceremony” (but with balloons) to welcome the high school students to campus personally. This was a deliberate change from 2017 to allow both the high school and college students to get to know each other better. On the first day, everyone participated in some great ‘ice-breaker’ activities facilitated by the wonderful Syah Taylor who is a graduate student in Counseling Psychology, a campus tour guided by the DU undergraduate mentors, Chipotle fundraiser dinner (at the original Chipotle on Evans) and a movie night. Day two saw the students immersed in health inequity and health disparities conversations via live, interactive theatre from the Kaiser Arts Integrated Resources program, led by the amazing Betty Hart and her team, followed by reading and discussion of the “Waiting for Health Equity: A Graphic Novel” from the Colorado Center for Health Progress. These two activities set the students up for the start of their week-long “health research project” on a health/medical topic of personal interest, which they conducted every evening after dinner. Throughout the rest of the week both the high school and college participants engaged in a wide variety of activities including a sample college lecture and lab day learning about the muscular system, touring eight different health care teams at Porter Hospital (it was hard to know whether the favorite was the hyperbaric chamber or the ED/Ambulance tour), becoming certified in First Aid and CPR[1], and touring the labs at the Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging. The week ended on a high note with a final banquet dinner at which the high school students’ presented their research projects to their families, friends, and community members[2].


The partnership between the DU undergraduate mentors and the high school students is one of the highlights of the program. This near-peer mentoring provides the opportunity for high school students to engage with college students from underrepresented backgrounds and understand their journeys from high school to college. Our undergraduate mentors range from rising sophomores to newly graduated seniors and thus provides a spectrum of knowledge, experiences, and understanding of how to navigate and succeed in college. About half of the mentors from the 2017 program returned in 2018, so we had some great experience to lead the new mentors and make the program even better. Increasing the role and engagement of mentors is the continuing aim of the HPH program organizers, along with improved mentor training and assessment.

Find out more about the Public Grant Fund here.

[1] Thank you to the Campus Safety FA/CPR instructors for providing this training.[2] Thank you to the Writing Center for printing all of the posters.