The STEM Scholars Program, a new interprofessional community outreach program at UT Health San Antonio provides a platform for dental, graduate, health professions, medical and nursing students to interact and collaboratively design and present health-related topics at local K-12 schools. The topics chosen for the pilot run are diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
With the help of Dr. Ryan Hamilton and Bettina Clutts, teachers at Basis San Antonio Primary – Medical Campus, parents of elementary students from 4th and 5th grade classes received invites for the presentation as a voluntary afterschool program, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. With the program garnering great interest, the sessions were restricted to 50 students from the school.
The STEM Scholars Cancer team included Rene Rosales (School of Nursing), Luke Seiler (School of Dentistry), Keaton Shin (School of Dentistry), Aldo Hernandez (School of Health Professions), Alia Mallah (Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences), Liesl Lawrence (Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences), Ivan Rubalcava (Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences) and Anna Laura Licon (Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences).
The second presentation was about cancer. During the cancer lesson, the students took a pre-quiz and then listened to a lecture created by the STEM Scholars team.
First the students explained the basics about cells, the cell cycle, and the differences between normal and abnormal cell growth.
“Cells are a basic unit of life,” explained Alia Mallah, a student in the joint Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. program in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. “Cancer is an example of a mutation which is basically when something goes wrong in the cell.”
Liesl Lawrence, a student in the Cell Biology, Genetics, and Molecular Medicine Ph.D. program in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, further added that students may be familiar with the concept of mutation through movies.
“You will see in superhero movies that mutations cause superpowers but in real life, it’s often not a good thing and one of the examples is cancer.”
Mallah and Lawerence also explained that cancer is a group of different but related diseases. Some examples include skin cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, blood cancer, gastric cancer, and oral cancer.
Luke Seiler, a student in the School of Dentistry, explained that oral cancer is something that he has to know about because as dentists, he can help diagnose oral cancer and then advise patients to see a doctor.
“Every time a patient comes into a dentist office is basically an oral cancer screening because we are looking for all the signs,” he said.
He also explained that there are many risk factors for oral cancer but smoking is one that is especially important for the students to know about.
“If you smoke, you have a five times greater risk of developing oral cancer than a non-smoker,” he said.
Aldo Hernandez, a student in the Respiratory Care program in the School of Health Professions, brought up the recent fad in popular culture of “vaping.” New research has found that vaping alters the physical appearance of airways and lung macrophages.
“Anything that you are putting into your lungs is going to make a difference,” he said. “When you are ingesting smoke when you smoke or vape, you are going to see that your lung will have difficulty breathing in and out. It will also start to accumulate fat and leave you more prone to getting infections.”
A few ways that doctors are able to treat cancer is through surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Anna Laura Licon, a student in the Doctorate of Medical Physics program in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, explained how she works with linear accelerators in the clinic which rotate around the patient to deliver high energy x-rays which damage the DNA in cancer cells to stop them from replicating.
“Normal cells are also damaged but they heal quicker,” she said.
Finally, the students wrapped up with a few tips to help minimize the possibility of getting cancer including avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke, wearing sunscreen, exercising and eating a balanced diet.
Thiss followed with activity sessions which head & neck screening, pig heart model, DNA cell game, linear accelerator model, sunscreen and moles chart. Afterwards, the elementary students took a post-quiz.
The STEM Scholars Program is funded by a grant from the Student Services Fee Committee to Charlotte Anthony, Marketing Specialist, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Dr. Ramaswamy Sharma, Assistant Professor, Cell Systems and Anatomy, Long School of Medicine and Dr. Irene Chapa, Director, Recruitment & Science Outreach. The program thanks Olga Coronado and Tracy Castillo from the Office of Recruitment and Science Outreach and Dr. Moshtagh Farokhi, Leader of LINC Co-Curricular Initiative, Associate Professor/Clinical, School of Dentistry for their extensive help with organizing and coordinating the presentations and activities.
STEM Scholar Sessions:
The STEM Scholars Program, a new interprofessional program at UT Health San Antonio unites dental, medical, nursing,…