By Shirley Hawkins
WILLOWBROOK — Ellie Ozigho, 5, sat quietly in her chair beaming with pride.
“I want to be a doctor when I grow up,” she said, smiling brightly. “I want to help people get better.”
Blake Turner, also 5, announced he wanted to be a teacher, so he can help kids count big numbers. “Or maybe Batman,” he added thoughtfully.
Both children are enrolled in the pre-kindergarten class of the Saturday Science Academy II at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. The program, founded by Dr. Lawrence Alfred in 1981, instructs and engages children and teens from pre-kindergarten through high school in science, technology, engineering and math curriculum with hands-on activities.
The goal of the Drew University Pipeline Programs, which are sustained by gifts and grants from donors, is to motivate young people and prepare them to move into health care fields after graduating from high school.
Students are introduced to various concepts in human anatomy and physiology, math, biomedical engineering, physical science, global health, plant life, marine biology, earth science, and space science in a seven-week academically rich learning intense program phase.
The pipeline programs currently include four additional programs, including the Pathways to Health Careers Academy, the Community STEM Academy, the Community Youth Health Advocates Program, and the Los Angeles Pediatric Society at CDU Program.
For more than 30 years, the Saturday Science Academy has assisted thousands of young people in underserved communities to pursue careers in the sciences. They are recruited into the program through various school districts or by hearing about the program through word of mouth.
Dr. Dulcie Kermah, executive director of the Drew University pipeline programs, has been with Drew since 2005. Kermah said she is gratified to be a part of the program, adding that eight staff members and 20 instructors work hard to make the program a success.
“It takes a village to have [the academy] run so smoothly,” she said, adding that Charles R. Drew University’s President and CEO Dr. David Carlisle is supportive of the program.
The Saturday Science Academy has winter, spring and fall sessions. Kermah said the spring program begins April 15.
The students also go on field trips.
“We will visit UCLA Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences on March 25 and we are also going to Amgen, a pharmaceutical company,” Kermah said.
“It’s a blessing to be part of the young people’s educational journey. I love to see the kids excited to learn more about science and the health field,” she said.
“Participants who complete all three sessions in a year receive a white coat to celebrate their graduation during the Junior White Coat Ceremony,” she said.
Every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon, dozens of children and teens crowd into the classrooms at Drew University to conduct experiments and to explore the wonders of science and medicine.
On a recent Saturday, the first and second graders were busy fashioning volcanoes out of Playdough.
With safety goggles firmly in place, the children mixed together baking soda and vinegar and poured the mixture into the volcano’s crater. As steam rose from the volcano, an excited chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” filled the air as the children jumped up and down with excitement.
Third grade students in the Earth Science class clutched green plastic soda bottles and happily rushed outside to catch falling raindrops.
“They are learning to gauge how much rain will trickle into the bottles,” said first-year Drew University master’s student and lead instructor Jesus Terrazas. Parents also support the program.
“We have parent workshops to keep the parents informed of different topics,” said Kermah, who added that one class recently talked about the dangers of Fentanyl.
“There is also a Dad’s Club. The dads come to pick up their kids and then provide support wherever they are needed. This is important especially for our young males,” Kermah said.
The instructors at the Saturday Science Academy also love the program.
“I never had a chance to delve into the science spectrum in my youth,” said Terrazas.
Engineer Fernando Del Cerro, whose 15-year-old sons have been attending the Saturday science program for more than 10 years and were attending a tutoring class, said that his sons love the program and plan to pursue careers as engineers.
“They love the program,” Del Cerro said. “It’s fun for them because they get a chance to interact with different kids.”
“I just love seeing the opportunities these kids have,” said Gregory Friday, a first-year instructor. “I had never been exposed to the sciences like they are at their age. Just knowing that these kids have access to these resources makes me feel great.”
For more information on the Saturday Science Academy, visit https://www.cdrewu.edu/community/pipeline or call 323-563-5800.
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org