When Yasmeen Makarem from Dubai first arrived at University of Cincinnati to pursue a pre-med degree, the institution’s proximity to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre stood out.
“As soon as I started my first year here at UC, I went completely against the pre-med advice of ‘solely focus on academics in your first two years’,” she says. “I headed right for the hospital. I remember just having been a student for a month before I heard back from Cincinnati Children’s Volunteer Services and was welcomed to do an interview – I walked out of that interview with an assigned shift at the Centre for Blood Disease Institute unit.”
Makarem was able to do that, thanks to UC’s innovative experience-based (experiential) learning – which integrates practical, real-world work experience into the courses of study. All UC students can choose to join the Co-Op and Internship programme, ranked fourth in the US (US News and World Report). They can complete an academic internship, participate in a performing arts production, commit to a cause or even travel around the world.
Not only did Makarem work at a nearby hospital, but she also applied for an International Student Ambassador job and was offered a position as a NICU Baby Cuddler Volunteer. She describes the latter as her best experience.
“I have always believed that when you pursue an opportunity that you can connect to, the time you allocate for them is invaluable and just a number. I personally chose to work for the experience. I spend a few hours each week cuddling pre-term and critically-ill full-term babies; and this is what motivates me each day to continue this pre-med journey into medical school and beyond,” Makarem shares.
Phuc Nguyen – a Vietnamese Biomedical Engineering student – took a different route. The 19-year-old chose to work in UC International Services, and has not regretted his decision since.
“My employer in the Office of International Admissions was very friendly. He totally understood that I had my classes, and he readily allowed me to take a day off if I felt like I was behind in my classes. I felt welcomed to work at this office,” Nguyen says. “He sometimes offered me coffee during my shift, and once I was even invited to lunch with all the other members in the office.”
Indeed, UC is a global leader in experience-based learning, having pioneered cooperative (co-op) education back in 1906. UC students also earn a collective US$65 million per year through co-op participation, ranking the institution first in the nation for return on investment.
UC – a Research One university – also offers undergraduate research opportunities. The strong relationships with the Cincinnati business community, hospital, and non-profits allow undergraduate students to work side-by-side with internationally renowned professors on cutting-edge research within their field.
For Nguyen, he got to research a medical device for his final “Intro to Biomedical Engineering in the Clinical Environment” project.
“Our final project involved researching how the medical device works, its patents, FDA approval, and its corporate development,” he says. “We also had the opportunity to meet guest speakers and real physicians from the UC College of Medicine and Cincinnati’s Children Hospital. Not forgetting the many hands-on experiences too — my professor introduced us to catheters in class and we also learned how to use an ultrasound machine.” That class ended up as Nguyen’s favourite.
UC ranks among the National Science Foundation’s top 35 public research universities, and is first in Ohio for research and development spending in the humanities. Through the 1819 Innovation Hub, talented UC students can also explore prototyping, start-ups and industry partnerships.
Pair this with outstanding support from various avenues and students like Nguyen and Makarem are ready to make an impact wherever they go. For example, Makarem was one of the few to get accepted into the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force of the American Academy of Paediatrics – 20 of them were paired with paediatric hospitalists in top hospitals.
“I would have never thought to look for that opportunity. My mentor has been an inspiration and such a great help in supporting me through this pre-med journey,” Makarem says.
Nguyen agrees. “I am very glad that everyone is ready to help me,” he says. “My academic advisor always provides me guidance and advice on what courses I need to take. My professors are also very supportive.”
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