More than 100 South Hampton Elementary School fifth graders recently toured UAB’s campus as part of a program that provides children an opportunity to explore life ambitions early and create a plan to achieve these goals.

Students from South Hampton Elementary were eager to ask questions and learn more about potential careers when they visited UAB as part of Project Aim, which focuses on the needs of children in inner-city neighborhoods. BELOW: Students interested in pursuing medical careers had the opportunity to tour the inside of an ambulance. 

Project AIM (Adult Identity Mentoring) focuses on the needs of children in inner-city neighborhoods; research repeatedly shows this population may be at increased risk for dropping out of school and engaging in high-risk behaviors, such as using tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs. One goal of Project AIM is to reduce these risky behaviors by giving children an opportunity to explore possible identities. And one way to accomplish this is to bring children for a tour and meet faculty, staff and students at UAB.

“The idea is to get young people to think about positive professional careers, and also to have realistic plans for achieving their goals,” say Ken McGrew, Ph.D., who heads the research component of the project. “It’s easy to say ‘I want to be a doctor,’ but if you don’t know what’s involved in that you won’t do the things necessary to achieve that goal.

“This is the culmination, bringing them to UAB and letting college be a real place instead of just a word.”

The South Hampton students ate lunch on campus before splitting off into three groups. Those who had interests in a medical career visited UAB Hospital where they spoke to a nurse and toured the inside of an ambulance. Students with an interest in a teaching career met with UAB students enrolled in the educational certification programs. Students interested in other professional careers spoke with McGrew.

The AIM curriculum includes activities that encourage children to think about positive career futures for themselves and to develop concrete plans for accomplishing these goals. Adult mentors, most of whom have retired from professional careers, and school personnel also have added their own activities to the curriculum, including talks by working professionals from the community and mock interviews for jobs at the end of the program.

The mock interviews were a success with last year’s fifth-grade class. McGrew says the children researched their careers on the Internet, created their own business cards, constructed a resume and considered how they should dress.

“It’s great fun for the kids, but they also take it very seriously,” he says. “I was surprised the job interviews were so meaningful to them. It’s good preparation. The teachers and the principal tell me many of these young people may not know how to present themselves for a job interview. Somebody’s got to teach them and, really, there’s nothing wrong with learning the nuances of that process now.”

The children also research their career choices in depth, learning everything from the salary they could expect the number of years of college required to achieve the goals.

UAB makes impact
Another surprise for McGrew has been the impact visiting the university has on the children.

As part of his research, McGrew asked the children if visiting UAB made it more likely they would make it a goal to attend college. “Almost all of them said yes,” he says. “That surprised me. When you’re in fifth grade, you hope what they’re saying will stick. I think it’s still worth doing if for no other reason it shows them the opportunities and lets them know they are attainable.”

Opportunity means aspirations
Chauncey Mack, the science chair at South Hampton, says the opportunity to visit UAB is a significant moment in the lives of their students. Many of the children come from working families, he says, but not necessarily college-educated parents.

He believes it’s important for the children to have an opportunity to learn about college and begin thinking about careers at an early age.

“Think about families in urban communities; college is not really on the plate at this early stage, in the fifth grade,” Mack says. “There is no question getting the opportunity to come here changes that a little bit.”

South Hampton principal Cedrick Tatum agrees. He says 90 percent of South Hampton’s students are on free or reduced lunches, and any opportunity to show the children there are great possibilities for their future gives them hope.

“Showing the kids they have the ability to go on to college could be a key factor in decreasing those [drop out] numbers in the future,” says Tatum, who plans to continue much of the curriculum laid out by Project AIM. “And they need those opportunities. Opportunities build hope. Hopefully the hope fuels a desire.”

Project AIM at South Hampton is in the final year of a grant jointly funded by the Center for Aging and the Center for Urban Education.