In October of 2010, Ayodele “Ayo” Adesanya came across a newspaper article lamenting the state of Champion Middle School in Columbus, Ohio’s Near East Side neighborhood. Calling Champion “the worst middle school in Ohio,” the Columbus Dispatch story noted that just 11 percent of seventh-graders passed the state math test that year, one of six academic areas it placed last in statewide. The article declared the school “a perpetual failure” at helping students rise above the “dismal circumstances” of their troubled neighborhood.
The story stayed with Adesanya, who benefited from adult mentoring throughout his boarding school and undergraduate experiences. He could not let go of the idea that so many adults were giving up on the students at Champion so early in their education.
“From that point,” Adesanya, a 2013-14 Schweitzer Fellow, recalls, “I knew that I wanted to specifically help Champion students accomplish their dreams and reach their fullest potentials.”
A couple years later, Adesanya contacted the school and offered to implement a program called Doctors in Science (DiS) at the school. DiS exposes Champion Middle School sixth graders interested in science, medicine and dentistry to the healthcare professions through a longitudinal mentorship program. The Ohio State University School of Medicine student is continuing the program during his Fellowship year with an eye toward increasing the involvement of his OSU classmates as teachers, role models, and mentors to Champion students in order to expand the life of the program beyond his own involvement.
DiS’s mission is “to promote a culture of scientific creativity, collaboration, and excellence for students interested in medicine and dentistry.” Program participants are nominated by their science teachers based on academic promise, leadership, and creativity, along with an interest in science, math, and the medical profession. In addition to introducing them to various aspects of medicine and dentistry—including through OSU-sponsored programs like MD Camp, Breakfast of Science Champions, and the Middle School Career Day at Nationwide Children’s Hospital—DiS helps students develop constructive habits to facilitate their academic success.
“I personally would not be where I am today if not for the mentorship of many who have been there for me,” says Adesanya. “Looking ahead, I want to give back to the youth here in Columbus. I believe that DiS can be of tremendous value to the Columbus community in helping to steer a select group of motivated students, who are at critical points in their lives and their education, toward pathways of success. Apart from having an enormous impact on these children’s lives, over time, the accomplishments of DiS students can hopefully help change the tarnished academic reputation of Champion Middle School.”
Adesanya also foresees the medical community eventually benefiting from the DiS program, as he says it will help diversify the ranks of students entering the field.
“I believe that DiS will accomplish a unique purpose in not only serving underprivileged youth, but also helping to guide and expose interested underrepresented students to careers in medicine,” he explains. “In this, the students can themselves continue to work to provide medical care to underserved communities and to help mentor others following in their footsteps.”
As inspired as he is by his DiS students, Adesanya says he is equally inspired by the diverse array of projects his peers in the Columbus-Athens Schweitzer Fellowship Program have initiated. “To see everyone integrate their professional trainings, from veterinary medicine to theological studies, into the specific missions of their community development programs has truly been an eye-opening and wonderful experience,” he says.
“In Columbus, the Schweitzer Fellowship has connected me with a group of similarly-motivated civic-minded scholars throughout central Ohio,” Adesanya adds. “Beyond the Columbus-Athens program, I look forward to meeting other Fellows and Fellows for Life as we all continue to work towards national and international community development efforts.”
Until then, Adesanya is focused on helping the students at Champion Middle School raise the bar on their academic achievement and their goals for the future. He overheard a perfect example of the program’s impact at the final meeting of the 2012-2013 DiS class last May.
“They had just recently finished their Ohio Achievement Assessments and were thrilled to reconvene as a group,” Adesanya recalls. They ended the meeting with a basketball game, and as he surveyed the scene, Adesanya spied two girls on the sidelines having an amicable back-and-forth. “I think I’m going to pediatrician,” said one girl. “Well, I think I’m going to be a surgeon,” replied the other.
“Having shared that moment with them and then talking with the Kathy Caruthers, the school guidance counselor, afterward,” Adesanya says, “I realized that although we very much have room to build in the 2013-2014 academic year and beyond, the program has already started to have a positive influence on the way that the students think and the goals that they set for themselves.”