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USC program provides health care experience for high school students

High school graduate Ariel Bodden studied at the Keck Medical Center of USC through the USC Family of Schools Concurrent Enrollment Program. (USC Photo/Jon Nalick)

Ariel Bodden always wanted to be a nurse, but there were hurdles to overcome: She didn’t graduate from high school until she was nearly 20 because she was pushed back a grade when she emigrated from Belize. And, of course, advanced educations do not come cheap.

But thanks to her own determination and a new program that offers students real-life hospital training, Bodden is on her way to a fulfilling career in health care.

The program is called the USC Family of Schools Concurrent Enrollment Initiative, and it is an offshoot of the Neighborhood Academic Initiative. Targeted to low-income, disadvantaged, first-generation students, the program gives high-achieving students the chance to learn valuable skills in a real-world setting at Keck Medical Center of USC. Bodden was in the first class of students to participate.

While the students at Foshay Learning Center — one of the university’s Family of Schools — took their regular classes during the week, they also had intensive learning sessions every Saturday and Sunday at Los Angeles City College.

In March, five of the students moved on to receive some training at Keck Medical Center of USC, with Bodden working in cardiology. They worked 20 hours a week for three months and were also enrolled at college.

And it’s all 100 percent free — not bad when similar courses can cost thousands of dollars. While it was anything but easy, the allure of a free education made it all worthwhile.

“I didn’t have to pay for anything — shoes, books,” Bodden said. “They even provide transportation.”

The program became a reality last year when Theda Douglas, USC associate vice president for government partnerships and programs, applied for a grant from USC Neighborhood Outreach, which is funded by the annual Good Neighbors Campaign.

“We took high school students who are very serious about their career and wanted to be in the profession,” Douglas said. “It took them 16 weeks, every Saturday and Sunday. Their parents had to have them here at 6 a.m. We are thrilled to see the dedication of both parents and students in this endeavor. It is programs like this that provide a meaningful career path and give students a glimpse of what they can become.”

The Community Benefit and Outreach Department at Keck Medical Center was instrumental in bringing the program to the Health Sciences Campus. Providing medical education to minority students is one of the department’s focused outreach initiatives, according to Sevanne Sarkis, administrative director of community benefit and outreach.

“We have certain priorities we’re trying to meet in the community,” she said. “We’re trying to give them as much experience as possible.”

Bodden’s class was something of a test. If the students didn’t do well, the program would face an uncertain future. But Bodden is now tutoring the second group of students starting their studies.

The program makes the students more attractive when it comes time to enroll in college, said Alicia Syres, director of volunteer services at USC Norris Cancer Hospital.

“Grades are wonderful, but [colleges are] looking at the whole person now,” she said. “Have they gone out of their way to help someone else? They want more than numbers on paper. They want the whole package.”

Though she still has a way to go before reaching her ultimate goal of becoming a nurse practitioner, Bodden has already received vocational certification as a certified nursing assistant and a home health aide.

In fact, she already puts her skills to use. To make extra money, she spends weekends tending to an elderly woman with dementia.

So with classes, hospital training and tutoring, when does Bodden get a few free minutes for herself?

“Holidays,” she said with a laugh.

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USC program provides health care experience for high school students

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