Student-created diabetes display headed for science museum

SUNY Upstate

Upstate medical students Chris Botash and Emily Commesso with the mobile version of the interactive display created by Upstate's Endocrinology Club and Upstate graphic designer Dan Cameron. A permanent version of the display is being installed at the Museum of Science and Technology in Syracuse.

Syracuse’s Museum of Science and Technology is installing an interactive diabetes display created by Upstate medical students.

The display is designed to educate children and their caregivers. It came about after Chris Botash, who will graduate from Upstate’s College of Medicine in May, volunteered at a camp for children with diabetes the summer after his first year in medical school.

In addition to learning about the physical management of diabetes, Chris said his time at Camp Aspire (near Rochester) gave him a completely new perspective on the psychosocial implications of growing up with diabetes.

The campers, ages 8 to 17, shared experiences that illustrated misconceptions and misunderstandings about the disease. One teen’s exam proctor tried to take away her insulin pump because he thought it was a cell phone; a young boy was given carrots at a friend’s birthday party, while other children were given cupcakes.

“Much of medical school is focused on establishing the doctor-patient relationship … but once that patient walks out the door, that’s where our first-hand experience ends,” Chris said. “Camp Aspire provided me with the opportunity to follow that patient out the door and see some of what it is like to live with diabetes day-to-day. Children with diabetes face many challenges — some of which arise from confusion about diabetes amongst their peers and in their communities.”

SUNY Upstate

Medical students Chris Botash and Emily Commesso with the mobile version of the interactive display at the Joslin Diabetes Center.

When he returned to campus that August as a board member of Upstate’s Endocrinology Club, Chris started thinking of ways to raise awareness about diabetes among children and their caregivers.

He thought of the MOST, where he had worked on the education staff during high school and college.

“Thousands of school children pass through the MOST’s doors every year, and these kids learn a lot from interacting with exhibits targeted toward their age,” Chris said. “The idea for a diabetes education exhibit was born. I pitched the idea to my club’s executive board, and was excited to receive their support. I have a background in public health (my undergraduate major at the University of Rochester), but I had never attempted a project like this before.”

It turned into a group effort with input and financial support from throughout the Upstate community; about 30 people had a hand in its creation.

Upstate diabetes specialists and medical students from the Endocrinology Club provided the content, which includes a “Myth vs. Fact” game, information on blood glucose monitoring and insulin administration, comparison of Type 1 vs. Type 2 diabetes, and examples of carbohydrate counting.

Emily Commesso, a third-year medical student and former president of the Endocrinology Club, coordinated the project along with Chris.

“In the process of creating the display we had one of the children within the community and a Camp Aspire camper and family take a look at the display and offer comments before creating the final form,” Emily said. “The display was revealed at Camp Aspire this past year and was met with great reviews.”

A portable version of the display has also been created, and recently was on exhibit at the Joslin Diabetes Center. The Endocrinology Club may try to showcase the mobile display at community events, libraries and other locations.

While the displays will directly benefit people in the community, they’ll also help medical students.

“It is important to understand difficulties that our patients face, and how we can promote education of the diseases that our patients face and the impact on their lives,” Emily said. “Translating medical knowledge into patient-friendly language and making it understandable to children is a challenge. Creating this display has certainly brought this to light and the process we went through will make us better physicians.”

SUNY Upstate

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Graduate students mentor teens in ’1000 Girls, 1000 Futures’


These are some of the PhD students in Upstate's College of Graduate Studies mentoring young girls in the "1000 Girls, 1000 Futures" program. From left: Megan Peppenelli, Sarah Barger, Maria Popescu, Liz Snyder, Amber Papillion, Rose Pasquale, Jacqualyn Schulman and Olesea Cojohari.

Female students in Upstate’s College of Graduate Studies are mentoring high-school age girls from around the world in the “1000 Girls, 1000 Futures” program.

The initiative of the Global STEM Alliance of the New York Academy of Sciences – a “global online network of the world’s smartest women” – is in its first year. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

Seventy colleges and universities are among institutions and organizations working through the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) to identify and develop promising students around the world. Mentors represent 17 countries, with mentees from 19 nations.

NYAS contacted Upstate’s College of Graduate Studies about the program, and Dean Mark Schmitt, PhD, wanted the college to take part. Some of our female PhD students are now corresponding online with girls from Scotland, England, Greece and India as well as the United States.

The mentees’ interest doesn’t have to align perfectly with the mentor’s area of study; the program is designed to develop leadership, communication skills and critical thinking.

Megan Peppenelli, a PhD student in Microbiology & Immunology, works with a 14-year-old girl in Athens, Greece. The two video-chat every Friday. The girl would like to come to the United States for college, so in addition to advice related to the sciences, Megan also offers guidance about scholarship possibilities and college entrance exams.

Megan said she got involved in the 1000 Girls, 1000 Futures program because she had very good mentors while working her way toward a PhD program, and wanted to return the favor.

Her mentee is very studious and interested in computer engineering and the environment. “She impressed me because she volunteered to clean up a beach near where she lives,” Megan said.

Maria Popescu, a PhD student in Neuroscience, mentors a 14-year-old student (from England) who is interested in aerospace engineering and aviation.

Maria said she was encouraged to pursue a STEM career as a high school student in Canada, but there was limited specific guidance on how to go about it. She’s helping her mentee sift through information on scholarships and summer internships.

“It’s hard to integrate all the information out there, especially when you’re 14,” Maria said. “I know what to look for now because of the hardships I’ve gone through. When (my mentee) asks me a certain question, I know right off the bat what career might be a good fit for her.”

Maria has assigned her mentee to review scientific literature, and is also helping her with a resume to help prepare for university, as the process in England starts at an earlier age. Later they’ll work on a personal statement.

Jacqualyn Schulman, a PhD student in Pharmacology, works with a 16-year-old girl in Scotland who is interested in aerospace and has been accepted into a summer “Scottish Space School” at the University of Strathclyde.

Jacqualyn said she wishes a program like 1000 Girls, 1000 Futures existed when she was in high school.

“It opens you up to all the programs out there in colleges so you know what you have to do to pursue a career,” she said. “It helps you from the beginning to know what you have to do. The program provides support and information, builds leadership and communication skills and just broadens your knowledge from high school.”

Another feature of the 1000 Girls, 1000 Futures program is its STEM Pro Series — regular online forums in which mentors and mentees alike can ask questions of women in STEM professions. A visiting scientist with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Delphine Deryng, PhD, recently took part.

In the next few years, the Global STEM Alliance hopes to go way beyond the number 1,000. It wants to have reached one million female students in 100 countries by 2020.

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‘Sun Smart Syracuse’ teaches kids about skin cancer

SUNY Upstate

Medical students on the executive board of Upstate's Dermatology Interest Group, from left: Peter Thai, Dulce Barrios, Nathalie Morales, Amanda Gemmiti and Tai Truong. Photo by Katie Rong.

Medical students in Upstate’s Dermatology Interest Group will share their “sun smart” message with 450 elementary school pupils next week.

“We are all extremely excited at the opportunity to raise awareness of the dangers of skin cancer and the importance of proper sun protection starting at an early age,” said group president Nathalie Morales, a first-year medical student. “Our goal is to make the kids understand that what they do now will affect them in the future.”

Skin cancer – including melanoma, the most aggressive form — is on the rise in younger populations, Nathalie said.

The students’ Sun Smart Syracuse project started with the Salt City Road Warriors, a group of local runners who raise money for the Upstate Foundation. The foundation manages hundreds of funds that support Upstate Medical University’s mission.

The Road Warriors’ Maureen Clark decided to focus the club’s fundraising this year on raising awareness about the dangers of skin cancer. She contacted dermatologist Ramsay Farah, MD, who suggested the idea to fourth-year medical students Matthew Helm and Daniel Grove, and to Nathalie in the Class of 2019.

Upstate students Amanda Gemmiti and Dulce Barrios have joined the project and will also be among the presenters next week at Blessed Sacrament School, the Syracuse Hebrew Day School and Holy Cross School in DeWitt.

The medical students will give 20-minute PowerPoint presentations to multiple classes in kindergarten-through-6th grade. They’ll hand out sunscreen (donated by Wegmans and Australian Gold), UV detection bracelets and a sunscreen application-tracking calendar; they’ll also conduct an initial survey and a followup survey next month.

In age-appropriate presentations, the students will cover the ABCs of sun protection and point out the dangerous societal pressures that encourage tanning, either in the sun or in tanning beds — an important issue for older students as they prepare for prom season and summer vacation. “If they understand this now, they’ll learn good habits,” Nathalie said.

Before coming to Upstate for medical school, Nathalie worked for two years as a surgical medical assistant and clinical research coordinator for a Mohs surgeon and encountered a lot of patients with skin cancer. Mohs surgery is an advanced technique and is considered the gold standard in skin cancer surgery, Nathalie said.

That experience drew her to dermatology, as did her graduate work at Rutgers University, where she earned a master’s degree in biomedical sciences with a thesis on wound healing and repair. This summer she has a fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where she’ll work with other fellows on a project studying the relationship between merkel cell carcinoma, a rare form of skin cancer, and squamous cell carcinoma.

Nathalie said the Upstate Dermatology Interest Group is interested in giving presentations to other schools in the community. The group also plans to hold a SPOTme skin cancer screening on the Upstate campus in September, she said.

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Third annual student art show on exhibit in Weiskotten library

SUNY Upstate

SUNY Upstate Art Club show organizer Karen Howard talks with fellow students George Thatvihane and James Osei Sarpong at the club's exhibit in the Health Sciences Library in Weiskotten Hall. An opening reception is at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

The SUNY Upstate Art Club kicks off its third annual art show with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Health Sciences Library in Weiskotten Hall.

Twenty-two artists are represented, with more than 100 pieces in a variety of media — photography, charcoal, acrylic, oil, collages, ink wash, sculpture and mixed media.

Students from the Colleges of Medicine, Graduate Studies and Health Professions contributed to the show, which runs through April.

SUNY Upstate Art Club

"Sunflower Clock," by first-year medical student Eric Zabriskie, on exhibit at the Upstate Art Club show. The wire and nail polish piece is an actual working clock.

Organizer Karen Howard, a student in the MD/PhD program, said this year’s show generated a lot of interest from students and uses up just about all of the library’s exhibit space. The number of artists and pieces increased from last year’s show.

A couple of animal-friendly wrinkles this year:

* A series of sketches of dogs at area shelters waiting to be adopted through the Patience Project, which is “dedicated to showcasing dogs in Central New York who have been patiently waiting in shelters for weeks, months or even years.”

* Framed fine art prints of elephants by student Rebecca Alexander (DPT, Class of 2018) are for sale ($50), with 10 percent of the purchase price going to elephant conservation efforts in Africa.

The pieces that are for sale are marked as such; most are in the $20 to $150 range.

Karen said she wants the art show to continue next year, but is looking for another student to take over the organizational duties. It’s a significant time commitment, she said, and the show wouldn’t have happened without the help of library staffers Clare Rauch and Olivia Tsistinas, and fellow students Nicole Cifra, Josephine Lee and Dawn Lammert.

Any student who’s interested in the club in general, or in serving as an officer or organizing the 2017 show, should contact Karen by e-mail or through the club’s Facebook page.

SUNY Upstate Art Club

Artist Rebecca Alexander, center, shows her artwork to fellow DPT students Alicia Vann and Abbey Lind at the SUNY Upstate Art Club exhibit in the Health Sciences Library in Weiskotten Hall. In the foreground is a colored pencil drawing by MD/MPH student Nicole Cifra.


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Upstate celebrates MEDS program for high school students

SUNY Upstate

Students from Henninger High School in the MEDS program -- Medical Education for Diverse Students -- with their teachers and Upstate medical students who taught the students this year. Photo by William Mueller.

The MEDS program at Upstate — Medical Education for Diverse Students – marked the end of its third year with a celebration last week.

MEDS brought self-selected juniors and seniors from Henninger High School to campus every six weeks or so for an afternoon of exposure to medicine and other health care careers. A group of first- and second-year students in our College of Medicine ran the program.

Each session ran four hours on a Wednesday afternoon and covered different areas of human health, including neurological, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and respiratory.

The high school students spent part of each visit in Upstate’s human anatomy lab, where they could see the relevant parts of the body.

“It’s showing me how the human body is working,” Henninger student Alejandro Lora-Matos said during last week’s session. Alejandro wants to be a physician, and listened intently as he and nine other MEDS students rotated through several cadaver stations to learn about different organs.

“Being here gives us the ‘field view’ where you can see how an organ works,” Alejandro said, “rather than the textbook view where things are just on the page.”

Colleen Jackson, who teaches the human body system course at Henninger, said the MEDS program opens up a lot of opportunities for the students.

The program is a good way for students to decide if a career in health care is for them. Some decide it’s not, she said. But for others, like Khalil Aljoufi from last year’s MEDS group, it affirms their desire to keep pursuing their dream of becoming a doctor, nurse or other health care provider. Khalil now attends Cayuga Community College and stays in touch with his Upstate mentors.

Second-year medical student Mary Powers co-directed MEDS this year, along with classmate Tom Kartika. More than a dozen other medical students pitched in throughout the year.

Mary heard about the MEDS program early in her first year and started helping out. “I started volunteering and loved it, so I kept volunteering,” she said.

The program combines two of Mary’s passions – medicine and education. After graduating from Cornell with a degree in human biology, she joined Teach for America and spent two years working with Native Americans in South Dakota before coming to medical school.

The MEDS program expanded this year, adding more sessions as well as broadening the focus to include more health care professions beyond physician. DPT students participated, and a College of Nursing student who’s a Syracuse City School District graduate came in to speak. As many as 20 Henninger juniors and seniors came to each session, along with two or three of their teachers.

Next year, Mary said, the MEDS program is in good hands. It will be led by current first-year medical students George Thatvihane, James Osei Sarpong, Josh Drake and Duc Nguyen.

Henninger senior Nhat Le, who wants to be a physical therapist, said the MEDS program has been very helpful.

“I get to see the actual body and study the organs,” Nhat said between stations in the anatomy lab. She also noted that the medical students leading the sessions aren’t much older than the MEDS students.

“They’re friendly and it’s easy to ask them questions,” she said.

SUNY Upstate

Henninger High School seniors Alejandro Lora-Matos and Nhat Le learn the physical exam skill of percussion during the MEDS program in Upstate's human anatomy lab. Photo by Jim McKeever.


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