CALEB science club utilizes mentoring, networking to create meaningful relationships

Saturday, April 21, 2012 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:20 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 24, 2012
The CALEB Science Club is a program that allows middle and high school students to gain hands-on experience in the medical field. CALEB is part of the MU School of Medicine and was founded by Ellis and Pamela Ingram 17 years ago.

Editor's note: This is part of a special section on Columbia's kids. Read more here.

COLUMBIA — Whether it's putting a Band-Aid on a mannequin or conducting cancer research, regulars in the "Called to Academic & Leadership Excellence and Building character and confidence" science club receive a head start in preparing for college, or even high school.

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For club members, who usually range from 10 to 18 years old, CALEB offers a chance to network with various professors and staff on the MU campus one Saturday morning per month. Topics are focused in the field of health professions, but can extend into other areas, such as communication.

"We hope to not just give them a head start, but we give them continual exposure to academic challenges," said Ellis Ingram, who co-founded the program with his wife, Pamela. "We want to press them with challenges some people think is beyond their reach.

"When successful in those endeavors, they can succeed."

In order to do this, Ingram, who is the senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion and an associate professor in the MU School of Medicine, relies on high school and college students to volunteer at meetings and hopefully create long-lasting relationships.

Harvey Lee, a freshman at MU, jumped at the chance of impacting others' lives, saying it was a "moral fulfillment."

Interested in medicine, Lee had "no clue" how to become a doctor growing up, in part because he didn't know where to go.

"I know what it's like to be on the other side, so to speak," he said. "I was lost."

Someone to look up to

On March 3, about 50 middle and high school students congregated inside the MU School of Nursing shortly before 10 a.m. ready to learn.

After checking in, some sat in a circle with Lee talking about their interests and goals while others listened to introductions by faculty and graduate students.

Delaney Regan, a senior nursing student at MU who helped coordinate the event, hoped CALEB participants would view the volunteers as role models and could easily relate to them.

"It definitely gives them people to look up to," she said, adding it's fun to see the children enjoying themselves while listening to a stethoscope placed on a dummy's chest or prodding an intravenous needle into its wrist.

Regan said giving participants the opportunity to experience some of the instruments used in nursing may bolster their opinion of the field so that when the time comes to think about higher education, they will have at least one experience in the field.

Twelve-year-old Zomisha Green, a sixth grader at Gentry Middle School, attended the meeting and said her interest in the medical field stems from the closer bond nurses share with patients than the interaction between doctors and patients. With a history of depression, ADHD and drug abuse in her family, Green said it feels great to assist others.

"I've always wanted to be a helper," she said.

After a group picture, everyone finished the morning with lunch at a nearby dining hall, a relaxed way for mentors and students to update one another on their lives outside the realm of academia.

"Somebody will take a personal interest in them," volunteer and MU sophomore Steve Douglas said, adding how sharing the CALEB experience with kids is "cool."

Looking for growth

"Although our club is free and open to the public, there is an intentional effort to invite students that don't have all the resources and connections to participate and arrive to the meetings," Ingram said.

Growing up in Detroit, Ingram, 62, received a plastic microscope when he was about 11 years old.

"So that's kind of what it was with me," he said. "I started looking at everything under the sun under the microscope."

Now, Ingram travels to Columbia middle and high schools offering the opportunity for others to get started at an early age, as he did.

"Diversity is what the country's all about," Ingram said. "Diversity is integral to everything we do. It's critical to the mission of health science. We commit to having the best healthcare and you can't do it without diversity."

Ingram coordinates the club's future with a team comprised of CALEB veterans. The chair of the committee rotates each month, allowing students on the team to build leadership skills in addition to academic knowledge.

Brian Kurukulasuriya, 16, has attended CALEB meetings for more than five years and now has a say in the club's future after joining the leadership team. A sophomore at Rock Bridge High School, he doesn't consider himself "mentor material," saying he struggles with speaking to strangers.

But when discussing how he's about to participate in a summer research program for the third consecutive year — this year studying Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma —Kurukulasuriya is quick to say he plans on staying with CALEB until he graduates, hoping his research will help him in the college application process.

"The reward we get is seeing these students successful in areas that God has called them to," Ingram said. "That's the true reward." 

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