In a weeknight in May, six George Westinghouse College Prep 9th graders received their medical white coats.

They haven’t skipped medical school, but these students are taking a big step towards careers in science and medicine.  They represent the sixth cohort of Northwestern Medicine Scholars, a partnership between Northwestern Medicine and George Westinghouse College Prep that sets students up for intensive summer experiences, mentorship from physicians and experiences in science relevant to their lives.

“These students come out of the program with bigger goals because of the mentorship they receive,” said Patrick McGill, EdD Urban Education Leadership student and principal of Westinghouse.  “They have goals for things that previously they wouldn’t have thought even possible.”

About 80 percent of Westinghouse’s student population comes from low-income environments, and 90 percent are minority.  McGill says the experiences the program provides push students to set higher expectations.

“At times, I was really doubting myself and how far I would get in life,” said Guillermo Camarillo, a scholar and Westinghouse graduate in 2016.  “This experience has shown me that race and ethnicity and socioeconomic status don’t determine success, and that has really pushed me to strive for more.”

Each year, scholars engage in a summer intensive with a particular medical theme.  This year’s intensive focuses on public health, while previous years have featured endocrinology and cardiology.  Scholars have dissected placentas, practiced stitching and suturing on chicken breasts and watched live surgeries with the attending physician conducting live question-and-answers during the surgery.

In addition to the individualized mentorship, Northwestern Medicine also provides standardized test preparation for scholars, field trips and lectures at Westinghouse on issues in medicine relevant to students and their communities, including asthma and strokes.

While Westinghouse already features a high-achieving student population, the NM Scholars have built an impressive track record of college attendance and scholarship funding, with cohorts earning more than $1 million in scholarship funding.

McGill says his role in this partnership as the school’s principal prioritizes cultivating relationships with key partners like Northwestern.

“It takes time, it takes dedication, it means that on both sides, people at the highest levels need to be involved and invested,” McGill said. “We have a lot of competing commitments, but if you want a partnership to be strong and get the best possible results for students, you need to be directly involved and invested every step of the way.”