Ruth Baires is talking about careers paths as she points at the whiteboard behind her. One path is completely straight. That person goes from college to a job in her field and then continues to climb the career ladder. The next drawing looks like the spiky scribbles of a heart monitor.
"How about this one here? You become an M.D.," she says "What happens then? You don't like it. Or you don't like the lifestyle they lead. You have little hiccups, some would call, but these are learning experiences that will get you to whatever it is you need to do."
Baires, a diversity manager at Mayo Clinic, is one of the leaders in this pilot partnership between the Mayo Clinic and Century High School. Nine incoming-sophomores dressed in jackets and ties stare back at her. She explains that each of them need to write down what they're going to do this year to achieve their career goals. The room is silent and intent.
"Any questions?," she asks.
None. So they're off to the lab, latex gloves and Sharpies in hand. The students' days are split between learning science and professionalism.
The Mayo Clinic has hosted other math and science programs for Rochester high schoolers. But this is the first that caters to the students who teeter on the edge of the achievement gap.
"I kind of want to be a physical therapist," says Dominique Layfield.
I want to be a doctor, general doctor," says Essa Sharif.
"I want to go into education, which still goes for medical," says Awale Osman.
Three weeks ago, Dominique, Essa and Awale's plans post-high school were vague.
Dominique Layfield came to Rochester by way of Chicago. His grandmother largely raised him, and he didn't know much about career options or the Mayo Clinic.
"I like football a lot and I really wanted to play NFL. But if that doesn't work, I kind of want to do medical," he says.
Physical therapy could blend his love of sports with a more secure career.
Essa Sharif is Somali and grew up in Yemen. He moved to the U.S. Eight years ago. He'd considered joining a S.W.A.T. team.
"Well that's my second major, and I wanted to be a federal agent," he says.
He's trilingual and smart, but he's also what the school district defines as its average student, getting B's and C's. Teachers nominated Sharif and other students as a potential participants that could benefit from professional exposure and mentoring. Sharif's enjoyed it.
"We saved a dummy that stopped breathing," he says. "I got to remove a spleen on TV on a computer, which was fun. Then we got to extract some DNA."
Three teachers are also participating in this program. Sharif turns to ask one of them what science electives were available that might help him in college.
Awale Osman is more passionate about defeating racial stereotypes than extracting DNA, but even careers in diversity and outreach are available at the Mayo Clinic. He's already given talks on immigration to local middle schools. He is also searching, as a new sophomore, for college scholarships. Osman has gotten a lot out of the program.
"More of it was, what are you doing to achieve those goals? In professionalism, things that we had talked about, and getting us mentors and contacts which was great and fabulous," he says.
Next summer Mayo and the school district hope to expand the program to 60 students from all three Rochester high schools. In the meantime, these students will check in with Mayo mentors throughout the rest of high school.
Their mentors have told them that they are ambassadors of the program and of their schools.