The MERIT Scholars greeted the start of the new school year with their first Saturday session today. The Scholars discussed their course schedules for the upcoming school year and the hard work like preparing for the SAT that will be required. Understandably, the Scholars were more excited about their summer experiences like shadowing physicians on home visits and viewing doctors perform surgeries. However, everyone was prepared to hit the ground running for the new school year.

The Junior Scholars started the day with a IMG 0001math session to prepare for the SAT. They tackled an avalanche of data representations from pictographs to Venn diagrams to scatter plots.  The Scholars were glad to learn shortcuts to using proportions and decimals when working with percentages and a large quantity of data.  Scholar Savannah Tripp was quick to catch on, asking questions to find an easy method to solve data analysis problems, and then sharing her knowledge with her peers.  After their math session, the Scholars engaged in a SAT English session that introduced them to the Critical Reading portion of the SAT.  While the Scholars were preparing for the SAT, the Junior Scholars’ families met with MERIT co-founder Tyler Mains to discuss how everyone can best support the Scholars in reaching their ultimate goals.

Meanwhile, the Senior Scholars began brainstorming and discussing their community service projects focused on nutrition and sex education.  For instance, Scholar Sabreenah Khan decided to research fitness and nutrition topics for a IMG 0002 2pamphlet on cellular applications related to nutrition that she and her group hope to publish. Scholars also searched for potential donors to donate fresh fruit that they can pass out at local events to spread awareness about healthy eating. On the sex education front, the Scholars have established a relationship with Stadium Middle School and plan to speak at an event there to spread awareness. In this session, they researched experts they could invite to speak to the middle school students.  The Senior Scholars also decided upon a name for their project: CURE, Care Using Responsive Education. With all of their hard work, CURE is sure to be a great success!

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This summer, the MERIT Scholars all successfully completed paid internships across Baltimore City. The rising juniors first spent three weeks learning basic laboratory skills at Johns Hopkins University.  This part of the internship was in partnership with the Biophysics Research for Baltimore Teens (BRBT) program and was featured on the local news.  The juniors then spent three weeks completing various clinical experiences at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.  They worked with physicians, social workers, pharmacists, nurses, and other health care professionals in various departments including internal medicine, surgery, anesthesiology, OBGYN, neurology, radiology, and psychiatry.  

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The rising seniors completed a variety of summer research experiences.  A few Scholars participated in an 8-week intensive boot camp at BRBT to learn advanced laboratory skills.  Other Scholars completed the Johns Hopkins Internship in Brain Sciences where they gained clinical experience in neurology and psychiatry and learned analytical skills through a clinical research project.  Two seniors completed their internships at the National Institute of Drug Abuse as part of the Research Training for Under-represented Populations program, and another senior completed a research project focused on Parkinson Disease at the University of Maryland.
CARESsymposium3 smallerAt the conclusion of the summer, the MERIT Scholars presented posters and oral presentations at the Johns Hopkins CARES IMG 0028 smaller(Career, Academic, and Research Experiences for Students) Symposium. Hopkins faculty members, staff, community leaders, students, and guests attended the Symposium. The MERIT Scholars will all get a short break before the school year begins, and then restart their weekly Saturday sessions. It should be a great year for MERIT!

This week, the MERIT Sophomore Scholars were brainstorming ideas for our USAEF booth. Some of the ideas they thought of were having a social determinant simulation where they would have colored papers that coded for things like patients with disabilities, patients with no health insurance, and patients that come from low income community. With this simulation, the scholars would have participants pick a color and with that the scholars would discuss the health disparities regarding the chosen color.

Another idea the scholars discussed was having a myth vs truth game about diabetes. When asked about how she felt about the USAEF booth ideas, a scholar mentioned that she was, "learning a lot through this project because for example, before I thought diabetes was something you get from eating too many sweets but now I know that there are two different types of diabetes and many different ways, other than eating too many sweets, to get diabetes." Another scholar exclaimed, "I'm very excited to be a part of this science and engineering fair because I've been to conventions and other science engineering fairs but I'v never presented in one before. It will be a new experience and I'm looking forward to it!" MERIT applauds this kind of energy and excitement and we are very happy to see scholars be passionate about the projects they are working on. We look forward to seeingthis kind of energy consistently throughout the MERIT program. 

This week, we also welcomed Dr. Gauda to the MERIT to our Health Equity Leaders Speaker series. A scholar said that the speaker series has helped him, "see the different journeys that our speakers have taken to get to where they are. It is inspiring and encouraging to see that they have gotten to where they are through different paths. It is just like what our first speaker said (Dr. McQuay) about how getting to medical school is not a straight path!" It is exciting to see that our scholars have been enjoying our new speaker series and quote previous speakers. We hope to continuously see this engagement with our new speaker series!

Dr. Gauda began her talk with a couple interesting statistics about health disparities. She talked about how populations that are under represented have a higher incidence of disease than our majority race. For example, an African American women that is educated and has a high paying job has an equal chance of having a premature baby as a caucasian women that is uneducated and with a low paying job. Dr. Gauda stated that this showed that resources are not the only factor that is contributing to this statistic and said that "everything we do has to be based on a few important principles: we wat to make a difference in these statistics, we want to be successful, be in a position of influence, and be a role model for others locally and globally." She closed her talk with her "formula to be successful in life and career: Passion, Perseverance, and Partnership- Passion, because you enjoy doing things you are passionate about and what makes you happy makes you successful, Perseverance, because it is easy too show up and live up to whatever you are passionate about, and Partnership, because no one does it alone." We hope that the MERIT scholars take Dr. Gauda's wise words to heart and use them as a guidance in continuing their path in having a successful future!  



Our second speaker in MERIT's new speaker series was Dr. Roland Thorpe who is an assistant professor in health and aging from the Bloomberg School of Public Health. His interests lie primarily in health disparities across the life course, particularly in African-American men. Dr. Thorpe discussed one of his studies that examined why African-American men had lower age expectancies than their female or white counterparts. Dr. Thorpe opened up the conversation to our sophomore scholars who suggested numerous causes like "stubbornness," "pride," and "fulfilling a stereotype," for the disparity in health outcome amongst African-American males. All were correct in their answers and were even factors Dr. Thorpe had actually studied in his research! After wrapping up the discussion on his research, scholars asked Dr. Thorpe questions about his life course and how he got to where he is now. Throughout the talk, he stressed how important it is to find something you're truly passionate about because there will always be difficult days, but if you're tenacious, you will overcome any such obstacle. Even beyond the work sphere, Dr. Thorpe emphasized maintaining a balance between work and personal life, and encouraged scholars to find an outlet in their own lives. 

Rewinding back to last week at MERIT, our Sophomores spent a day full of group activities. One of the activities that they participated in was creating a presentation on an alliance to address issues such as lack of health care and creating solutions to help fix these issues. "Our alliance has a Zumba instructor that will hld free Zumba lessons to help with the issue of lack of physical activity," one scholar said. When asked what they thought about the group activity, one scholar excitedly said, "I really like writing on the white board. It gives a different feel than writing just on paper and makes the activity more fun. I hope there are more 'white board activities' in the future!" 

 Meanwhile, the Juniors continued their SAT preparation with an essay topic on 'do growth and progress make us happy or do they lead to dissatisfaction? With the SATs coming around the corner, the Juniors were extremely concentrated in creating a great response that will help get ready for a high score on their SAT! 
    MERIT also had the first speaker for our Leaders in Health Equity Speaker Series. While munching on some delicious sandwiches, the scholars, medical students, and undergraduates that attended this talk listened to Dr. McQuay address surgical disparities. He spoke about how we must address all research, workforce, and access issues in order to solve the issue of surgical disparities. After his talk, the scholars diligently asked Dr. McQuay questions about his pathway to medicine. One question a scholar asked that stimulated a lot of discussion after his talk was, "Should a scholar listen to a mentor that says you should change your major or other things pertaining to do that?" "You need a mentor," Dr. McQuay immediately answered, "I had a professor in medical school tell me to rethink my plan on being a doctor. I told him, 'thank you' and never went back to him for advice. A mentor should b e someone that guides you to achieving what you are doing. A mentor should never look at numbers but instead focus on your drive and passion and help you attain what you want." The MERIT scholars nodded in response and excitedly talked about their dreams and goals as they walked out of the Armstrong Educational Building to continue on with their Saturday, keeping in mind the wise advice that Dr. McQuay gave them during his talk.

Today was the Kick Off event for MERIT and the Armstrong Educational Building was with the Junior MERIT scholars, the newly selected Sophomore scholars, and the mentors.       

The newly selected scholars and mentors started off the day with a keynote address on health disparities, by Dr. Cheri Wilson from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. After, the scholars, the parents of the scholars, and mentors were put into different rooms for breakout sessions. Something that is important to note is that MERIT is not only relying on the scholars and mentor involvement, but also the parent involvement with the program. Parents work as a bridge between the scholar and the mentor and it is important for parents to build a stronger understanding of the program and create a strong community of parent support for the scholars. 

After the breakout session, the scholars were finally able to meet the mentors. "I've been looking forward to this all week!" one scholar excitedly commented. One of the challenges the mentors were concerned about was working through differences and conflicting areas of interest with their scholar. Thus, the mentors and their scholars created Venn diagrams illustrating their similarities and differences. "I know that growing up in a small town, I may have different ideologies and ways of interacting with just people in general than my scholar. But that is something that I am actually excited about. I think it'll be interesting for not only for my scholar but also for myself to interact with someone that may have grown up from a different background: we can learn from each other," one mentor explained. The mentors and scholars departed after arranging their next meeting for them to be looking forward to. 

        Meanwhile, the Juniors continued their SAT preparation as their SAT exam dates are coming up. Today, they covered the important topic of "traps" on the SAT where the test writers purposely put a false answer choice that they "want" the test takers to select. Identifying these "traps" will allow our Juniors efficiently eliminate the incorrect answer choices and increase their chances of picking the correct answer. What a busy and very exciting day for MERIT! 



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Baltimore Sun feature on MERIT Scholars participating in research at Johns Hopkins: 

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