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College of Medicine Assists in John P. Freeman Future Leaders of STEM Club White Coat Ceremony

Students from John P. Freeman Optional School in Memphis recently received white coats from the UTHSC College of Medicine for their participation in the Future Leaders of STEM program at the school.

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) College of Medicine recently participated in the John P. Freeman Future Leaders of STEM Program White Coat Ceremony. The program is a yearlong initiative to promote accessibility to STEM education for children in grades 3 through 8 at John P. Freeman Optional School in Memphis.

With a focus on science literacy, career exploration, and the development of STEM identities, the program provides a dynamic and supportive environment for students to collaborate and explore their interests in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Melissa Collins, EdD, the school’s STEM committee chair and the 2022-23 Tennessee Teacher of the Year, and Alina Nico West, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine, cofounded the program in 2019. They shared a vision to establish an engaging and creative space for students to enhance their critical and creative thinking skills while discovering the world around them and participating in scientific inquiry and problem solving through collaborative projects in STEM.

The White Coat Ceremony held at UTHSC symbolized a significant step in recognizing the achievements and potential of these young future leaders in STEM. Students were given white coats and pins by more than 40 UTHSC College of Medicine students, who will be participating in the program’s mentorship training, which is led by Dr. West.

Leaders from UTHSC and the College of Medicine were on hand for the ceremony. From left, Michael Witt, PhD, associate dean and chair of medical eduation; Catherine Womack, MD, associate dean of student affairs and admissions; Chancellor Peter Buckley, MD; Alina Nico West, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and cofounder of the program, and Key Coleman, EdD, principal, John P. Freeman Optional School

UTHSC Chancellor Peter Buckley, MD, and other faculty in attendance, recognized the importance of nurturing the next generation of scientists and health care professionals. Through this partnership, UTHSC aims to inspire and empower young minds to pursue careers in STEM, ultimately contributing to advancing health care and scientific discovery.

The College of Medicine’s involvement in the John P. Freeman Future Leaders of STEM Club White Coat Ceremony illustrates its commitment to fostering community engagement and inspiring the next generation of STEM leaders.

The elementary school students also interacted with sponsors from MLGW and Universal Engineering Sciences, Inc. Interestingly, the ceremony was held in the Nash Building on the Memphis campus, where Dr. West began her career in research over 30 years ago.

“We believe that STEM is all around us and we can utilize this perspective in providing an engaging and supportive environment that can ignite a passion for STEM in these young students,” Dr. West said. “We wanted to create a space where the students could truly dream big. We hope to foster critical thinking and collaborative skills, curiosity, leadership, and a sense of personal development, as they are mentored this year on exciting projects and work to explore their interests in science, medicine, and other STEM-related fields.”

College of Medicine students, in back, share the excitement with students from the John P. Freeman Optional School STEM program.