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country are turning to health sciences in particular. After its venerable nursing program closed in the 1980s, Skidmore had a relatively small cohort of students preparing for health professions—until the past few years, when its percentage of pre-health students has pretty much matched its peer col- leges, according to Possidente.

In view of its longtime strength in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, Skidmore “did need to balance its portfo- lio,” says Ray Giguere, chair of the chemistry department. One step was the 1998 establishment of the Porter Scholar- ships in Science and Mathematics, competitively awarded to five freshmen each year. Another program, funded by a 2007 National Science Foundation grant, supports the Skidmore Scholars in Science and Mathematics program, providing fi- nancial aid and mentoring to some 30 students from popula- tions traditionally underrepresented in the natural sciences. Funding for faculty laboratory work is up, and so are founda- tion and individual gifts that let students skip a summer job and still earn money working in close research collaborations with faculty, many of them in health-related lab sciences. Possidente watched a yearly average of 35 interested fresh- men and 10 senior med-school applicants around the 1990s rise steadily to more like 100 and 30 by 2005. “That’s more growth than we’ve seen in science majors in gen- eral,” he observes, and it hasn’t slowed. He attributes the explosion partly to idealism. Today’s college students, “more even than in my day

in the ’60s,” he says, “are unselfish, humanistic, and eager to work in the helping professions. They’re pursuing medicine for all the right reasons.”

Another driver is the growing variety in health professions and in Skidmore’s offerings. The exercise science department, now called health and exercise sciences, is booming; psychol- ogy is still popular; and the new neuroscience program is growing. Indeed HPAC advises (and the Pre-Med Club’s mem- bers include) not just majors in biology and chemistry but also HES, psych, math, “even history and music and Eng- lish,” Possidente says. About 20 percent of pre-med students major outside the natural sciences, which, he says, “reflects the fact that the sciences, and health care, are becoming more interdisciplinary.” That’s a pivotal notion in Skidmore’s strategic plan for the natural sciences. As President Philip Glotzbach has written, “Solutions to many contemporary problems reside at the in- tersections of traditional scientific disciplines—at the conflu- ence of biology and chemistry, computer science and biology, biology and psychology…” His vision calls for all Skidmore students “to understand the processes of scientific discovery and the central role of creative thought in those processes.” It seems the word is getting out: Possidente says, “We used to attract students who wanted a liberal arts education and maybe would pursue science; now we get kids who expressly

want a science education but in a liberal arts college.”

ES professor Pat Fehling, the new HPAC chair as of this year, foresees only more variety and cross-pollination in pre-health studies, including and beyond medical and dental. “We always want to help our students see the full spectrum of postgraduate opportunities,” she says. Along with becom- ing physical therapists, her students are increasingly drawn to careers as physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, and doctors. Another fast-growing field is public health. Fehling says HES offers some courses in it and is partnering with Skid- more’s health promotion director in student life, Jen McDon- ald, who has a Harvard PhD in public health. Currently Mc- Donald is advising three students doing self-determined ma- jors in public health.



Fehling says, “Advising is one of my favorite parts of my job, so I love being involved in HPAC.” To start, HPAC advi- sors welcome all comers, supporting students right through to a med-school application if that’s what they choose. First, advisors help them decide if health care is really where they want to build a career. Fehling likes to ask “what they have in mind for their quality of life and their home life—that can help them choose between, say, preparing for med school or aiming toward physician’s assistant training.” To tease out each student’s talents and tolerances, HPAC works to find in- ternships, summer jobs, or watch-and- learn experiences in clinics, offices, or

hospitals. Those high-intensity immersions often clarify a participant’s ambitions, so that HPAC advisors can then rec- ommend which courses to take and information to master. The Pre-Med Club is another resource: Leela Chandrasekar ’12, club president last year, “loved speaking with students about their interests. It was very satisfying to be a catalyst that helped them pursue their interests and get involved in the local health community.” The club’s peer mentoring and camaraderie, says Possidente, helps “keep students going through the hard work and sustains their motivation for a career in the health sciences.” Working with HPAC from inside the health and exercise sciences department is internship coordinator Karen Arciero. As a physical therapist in Saratoga before joining the Skid- more faculty, “I have a good network of health practitioners I can call on in almost any field,” she says. An internship can be formulated to carry one or two or three credits, depending on its hours and intensity. HES majors have always done oc- cupational and physical therapy internships, but Arciero has also set up students in everything from orthodontics to nutri- tion, from Pilates to performance training for the Adirondack Phantoms minor-league hockey team. She’s served plenty of non-HES majors too: “Often it’s students who take my anato- my course, so I’ve placed art majors, bio and chem majors, even American studies and English majors.”g

FALL 2012 SCOPE 19

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