Students usually are the ones seated in classrooms, listening to a speaker, but two Virginia Western students experienced a role reversal this fall.
Hannah Young and Joshua Long served as panelists at a conference hosted by the Blue Ridge Partnership for Health Sciences Careers at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute in Roanoke on Oct. 20, 2022. The partnership is a collaboration of educators, employers and economic development professionals seeking to improve health sciences education and align instruction to meet the workforce needs of the region’s health employers. As part of GO Virginia Region 2, the partnership’s service area takes in the Roanoke and New River valleys, the Alleghany Highlands and the greater Lynchburg region.
The partnership designed topics at this conference for people who work with learners who have the potential for careers in the health sciences. Speakers included industry leaders in healthcare and biotech information who helped showcase the wide variety of well-paying positions that are in high demand in health and life sciences in the region. Virginia Western Community College was one of many institutions with tables for conference attendees to visit and receive information about available programs.
Dr. Veronica van Montfrans is Associate Director of Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health, and Research Assistant Professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute (FBRI) at VTC. “One of the major goals of the Blue Ridge Partnership is to communicate that there are so many on-ramps for individuals who wish to pursue a career in health care,” she said. “We want people to understand that if they want to do this – there is a way!”
Young and Long are recipients of the Fralin Futures Finish Line Scholarship, a merit-based scholarship program at Virginia Western for students in STEM-H (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health care) programs of study. The Fralin Futures program funds recipients’ final two semesters and offers cohort activities and mentorships affiliated with FBRI.
Young and Long joined four other undergraduate and graduate students on the panel.
Long told the panel about his goals to use mechanical and biomedical engineering to create affordable prosthetics. Students’ expanded answers to career questions were available online for all conference attendees to use as reference later; in those answers, Long explained more about his academic path. “I was originally a health science major here at VWCC because my goal in life is to help people. I realized after one year in health science that my strong suit was mathematics, and I had a genuine curiosity for its various applications,” he said. “If a student’s passion for health science comes from a place of wanting to help others, there are several careers they can consider that contribute to health science but aren’t immediately that.”
Young aspires to attend medical school and become a pediatric surgeon. She advises aspiring health sciences students to measure their enthusiasm for their coursework. “It’s obviously going to be hard work, but if it’s something that you’re interested in, it’s worth the hard work,” she said, “especially if you enjoy those classes. If you’re not enjoying those classes, then it’s not worth it. I love my classes, so it’s rewarding for me to be in them.”
Young met representatives from Roanoke College, where she is considering transferring after she graduates from Virginia Western, as well as other attendees. “We got to meet the Virginia Secretary of Health, Bill Hazel. He said we were a group of well-spoken students who were obviously excited about the future of health science,” Young recalled.
Young said a group of high school counselors told the students “that it was really important that we were there to speak to them, so that they were able to get an idea of what’s going on in the students’ minds, instead of just an outsider perspective.”
The partnership wanted career advisors to hear from those “in the middle of this journey,” van Montfrans said. “We also were very cognizant of choosing local students as well – students who listed their hometown as this area. This is another goal of the Blue Ridge Partnership – to keep local talent local and help out their community.”
The partnership, founded in 2019, strives to be a resource for students interested in health sciences. “The partnership is here to help – we would like to help with finding pathways and careers within the health care system for those would are seeking advice and guidance. We are comprised of a fantastic network of individuals who are enthusiastic to connect,” van Montfrans said.
Some of those connections yielded opportunities for Virginia Western students immediately. Frank Tyree is the Success Coach for Roanoke City students participating in the Community College Access Program (CCAP). Tyree drew inspiration from the partnership conference. “The Health Partnership motivated me to set up tours” at FBRI and Radford University Carilion, he said. In addition to traditional health careers, he noted, “with technology and healthcare evolving, majors such as cybersecurity and IT are in demand to support telehealth visits and also to help manage these powerful servers that vast amounts of data and information flow through.”
Dr. Michael Friedlander, the institute’s executive director, took the time to give Tyree’s CCAP students a tour on Nov. 11. Tyree said he and the students “were amazed that such fascinating research with state-of-the-art technology was happening right here in Roanoke.” He wanted his students exposed to the world-class facilities. “By far, the biggest motivation was helping these students see where their finish line could potentially be,” said Tyree, who had two students express interest after the tour in earning internship opportunities at FBRI.
CCAP students toured Radford University Carilion’s facilities in downtown Roanoke on Dec. 2. This gave the students a chance to see more of a hands-on hospital setting, Tyree said. He noted that the involvement of VTC, Carilion and Radford in the October conference brought together many aspects of health care to give students a breadth of exposure to future options. Virginia Western students have reported on CCAP surveys that they seek help with career ambitions, Tyree said, and the tours have provided an avenue for career information and coaching on how to express professionalism in the work force.
Young said she has found incredible support in her time at Virginia Western, especially in her health sciences coursework and through scholarships that have paid her way. In addition to Fralin Futures, she has a CCAP scholarship, which has helped her focus on keeping a 4.0 grade point average, she said. “The class size is perfect for me, it’s not competitive, everyone just goes to class and participates, and I love it here. This is a perfect environment for me.”