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Salud y comunidad: Sentara professionals share health careers with local students

Rebecca Barnabi
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Approximately 60 high school and college students attended the annual JMU Professors in Residence and Scholars Latino Initiative College and Career Access Day on Dec. 2.

The event was held at JMU, and, for the first time, featured local Sentara Health professionals sharing their expertise in promoting salud y comunidad, or health and community.

Supported by JMU’s Office of Inclusive Excellence and Engagement and Office of Admissions, the day was coordinated by Dr. Carlos Alemán, a JMU professor in residence at Harrisonburg City Public Schools and a SLI program director. JMU undergraduates in the student organization SLI Mentors assisted with catering, planning and welcomed participants as campus hosts.

“Young people are more motivated than ever to make our world a better place as leaders, teachers, doctors, lawyers and scientists,” Alemán said. “Connecting first-generation high school students with the resources to pursue these ambitions and careers through higher education is an invigorating experience.”

Additional support came from Sentara Health through a grant that earlier this year also helped fund SLI scholarships for 18 SLI scholars pursuing college degrees in health-related fields. For College and Career Access Day, Sentara provided access to employees who shared with students about healthcare professions and opportunities.

Sentara physician assistant Leodegario Alonso provided the keynote address and shared about persistence on his career journey. He encouraged students to forge their own pathways. Alonso holds degrees from Eastern Mennonite University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Before becoming a physician assistant, he worked as a radiologic technologist, Futuro Latino Coalition specialist, medical interpreter and U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeant.

“It is very powerful to have someone like Leo, who looks like the scholars, share a story that resonates with them and inspires them to continue on their career path,” Sentara Director of Diversity & Inclusion Silvia Garcia-Romero said. “These experiences are so impactful and make a difference in Latino career advancement, and this is why we are proud to be a partner and support SLI’s work.”

Participating SLI scholars, who attended from Harrisonburg and John Handley (Winchester) High Schools, were also invited to explore how to use medical equipment such as blood pressure monitors, CPR masks and digital thermometers. JMU has supported PIR-SLI College Access Day since 2016. The addition to the program of career professionals and support by Sentara Health marks a development in networking opportunities for attending students.

SLI has programs in Harrisonburg, Richmond and Winchester, and supports Latino/a/x high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships and supportive mentorships. Through collaborations with university and high school staff, faculty, and students, SLI provides college access opportunities throughout high school, plus financial support for college success. Since 2012, SLI has served 181 scholars and awarded more than $542,000 in financial support for students.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.