UTPA program guiding students into college and on to health careers
By C.M. Powell, Informational Writer III
Posted: 08/03/1999
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Recent high school graduates from throughout South Texas are getting extra preparation for their college careers through the Health Careers Opportunity Program in the College of Health Sciences and Human Services at The University of Texas-Pan American.

Thirty students are currently enrolled in the six-week Pre-Freshman Summer Bridge Program of HCOP, attending classes in chemistry, math, writing and study skills.

"We not only go out and recruit students who are interested in health and allied health careers, but we give them an opportunity in the summer to actually experience what a university classroom is all about," said Tom Herbst, health adviser to the HCOP program at UTPA. "They’re all ‘A’ and ‘B’ students, but they don’t know what a university environment is like."

Students in the Summer Bridge are challenged with a rigorous, intense schedule of classes.

"I’m getting much more out of this program than I could ever have imagined," said Arlett Lomeli of Edinburg, a graduate of South Texas ISD’s Teacher Academy planning to pursue occupational therapy at UTPA. "It’s a lot of hard work. All day long you study, you get home, you eat, you do whatever chores you need to, and then it’s the books until you go to sleep…. I think if I can handle this for six weeks, I can handle almost anything."

Other students agreed that they are getting excellent preparation for university-level studies.

"It’s given us really good preparation for the fall, for this coming school year," said David Martinez of Edinburg, a graduate of South Texas ISD’s High School for Health Professions. "I’m getting an idea of what to expect. For example, I need help with my writing skills, and one of the classes that this program gives us is a writing course. It helps us with writing techniques that we will need for our composition class."

HCOP students Daniel Martinez, Avelina Rodriguez and Arlett Lomeli (left to right, from center), all of Edinburg, in the chemistry laboratory.

Martinez, who plans to major in chemistry and then transfer into the clinical laboratory sciences program at UTPA, also praised the chemistry classes and laboratory in the program.

"It is definitely good preparation," agreed Avelina Rodriguez of Edinburg, also a graduate of South Texas ISD’s Med High. "It’s very tough and kind of stressful, but it’s definitely going to prepare me for the fall. Right now we’re taking really tough courses.

"The instructors are great, and the directors of the program are awesome, too," she added. "They really help us and guide us. They’re wonderful."

Herbst said most of the students in the program have told him they’ve never studied so hard before.

"Even in high school, even though they were in a lot of extracurricular activities and got good grades, many of them say they didn’t have to crack a book very much on weekends, whereas in this program, they’re cracking the books all the time," he said.

Rodriguez, who hasn’t decided yet on what health career to pursue, said the program is helping her in that area, too.

"Every Friday they give us presentations on different medical careers," she said. "It helps us to look at the different things that the different professionals do, and from there I can decide. At first I wanted to be a pediatrician, but after seeing all these different presentations, maybe I’ll study to be a general practitioner or pursue psychology or nutrition."

Another incentive for students is that HCOP pays them while they attend the summer program.

"One of the strong features of this program is that these students, who might normally be out working part-time jobs this summer to help pay for their coursework in the fall, are paid $40 a day by the program," Herbst said. "It helps keep them motivated."

This summer’s group is the fourth class of HCOP students. In addition to the summer enrichment program, HCOP monitors each student’s progress and provides career counseling and advising while the student attends UTPA.

Areas of study selected by HCOP students include pre-medical, pre-dental, pre-pharmacy, physician assistant studies, occupational therapy, rehabilitative services, dietetics, clinical lab sciences, communication disorders, social work and clinical psychology.

HCOP is sponsored by a grant from the Division of Disadvantaged Assistance, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The goal of the program is to increase the number of individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds who enter and graduate from health and allied health professional schools.

"We recruit locally, we try to encourage the students to go to school locally and even practice locally," Herbst said. "As we all know, there is a big need in the Valley for health practitioners."