Chicago teenager Teanna Thomas moved a step closer over the weekend to her dream of becoming a pharmacist, graduating from a Northwestern University program that gives high school students a chance to work with scientists and doctors on cancer research.
Thomas, 18, and 30 other Chicago high school girls on Feb. 18 graduated from Northwestern’s science mentoring program, “Oncofertility Saturday Academy.”
Honored by President Barack Obama, it gives high school students a chance to conduct experiments in fertility and cancer research with scientists and doctors at state-of-the-art Northwestern facilities.
“The graduation was fun,” Thomas said of the ceremony at the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center at 303 E. Superior St., on the university’s Chicago campus. “We did our speeches to reflect on what we learned.”
The Young Women’s Leadership Charter School senior said she learned a lot.
“The program was very helpful,” said Thomas. “It was a lot of hands-on.”
“We actually felt like doctors,” she added. “We worked with med students. We had mentors that helped us. We asked them questions about college and Med school. Most of us want to become med students. They were very helpful.”
The program’s goal is to inspire and prepare young women to go to college and pursue careers in science and medicine, said Teresa Woodruff, its founder and the Thomas J. Watkins Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
Woodruff recently received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from Obama. The White House award recognized the crucial role mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students studying science and engineering — particularly those who belong to groups that are underrepresented in these fields.
In addition to the oncofertility program, the young women can also study cardiology, physical science and infectious disease.
The program has become a national model, inspiring similar education programs in other cities, according to Woodruff.
Woodruff said Oncofertility Saturday Academy helps train the next generation of female leaders in science and medicine. Graduates have gone on to pursue a variety of science and health-related careers since the program was founded in 2006.
At the ceremony on Saturday, Thomas, an honors chemistry student, gave a presentation on how a pharmacy works and what it takes to become a pharmacist. It’s been her dream job since she was a sophomore.
“To become a pharmacist you have to learn how to research medicines and what can be potential cures to some diseases,” she said. The program “helped me with the clinical side of medicine, how to work in the lab with doctors.”
“It bettered my interest in pharmacy with this program,” Thomas added. “I know how it feels to be a pharmacist.”