If you had $5 million, how would you prepare for and respond to the next hurricane to improve the quality of life for Houston residents? That’s the thought-provoking question facing local high school students participating in a new University of Houston mentorship program and competition focused on solving important community health issues.
Project Engagement Encouraging Rising Students (PEERS) is a community health initiative that pairs UH Honors College students from Honors in Community Health with high school students throughout the Third and Fifth Wards (Leland Prep, YES Prep Fifth Ward, Austin High School, Wheatley High School). By working side-by-side on projects that are relevant to their communities, the students build a shared understanding of community health and preventive care.
“I am a big believer in project-based learning as a key component to motivate students to not only harness knowledge, but to take action that makes an impact in communities,” said Dan Price, Honors College professor who leads the project in conjunction with his Community Health Worker Initiative. “We want to establish a pathway for students to come to UH prepared to do community health work. We want them to understand the shift moving from reactive care toward preventive care and to be ready to contribute to effective interventions.”
With the establishment of the new UH College of Medicine, which is focused on training more primary care physicians to impact the health of underserved communities, PEERS is the first step to create a pipeline of future medical students who are engaged in community health with a desire to serve in Houston communities.
One goal of the medical school is to have half of its students come from groups that are underrepresented in the practice of medicine, such as students from racial or ethnic minority groups or students from an economically disadvantaged background.
“We hope that through this terrific program, high school students will be inspired to solve real health issues affecting real people, which is the goal of our new medical school,” said Dr. Stephen Spann, College of Medicine founding dean. “This innovative approach could create a ripple effect of engagement with future doctors who will ultimately stay and serve as primary care physicians in their own communities.”
Supported by The Honors College, College of Medicine, UH STEM Center and the Benton Family Foundation, the inaugural PEERS competition is scheduled for Saturday, May 11 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. at UH Student Center South, second floor. Each of the 10 teams will present their ideas to a panel of judges that address community health challenges related to hurricane preparation and response including, but not limited to:
· Managing post traumatic stress and other mental health issues after a natural disaster
· Creating better communication hubs during a storm
· Addressing the needs of underserved communities
Each student from the winning team will receive up to $1,000. Throughout the program, the approximately 30 high school students attended UH workshops on career building, networking and financial aid. PEERS aims to build a natural mentorship with UH students to support professional development and academic success.