Biomedical Sciences Academy Teachers create college opportunities for students

In 2014, 10 seniors were enrolled in the Biomedical Sciences Program at Health Careers Center (HCC). By graduation, 10 received college acceptance letters and today, nine attend college. In 2013, there were 15 seniors and 14 went to college. In 2012, 13 students and 12 went to college. The year Biomedical Sciences Program was born – 2010 - its’ first graduate went on to Oklahoma Baptist University and recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. These successes are in part the work of Karen Upton and Sabrina Conlee, teachers in the Biomed Program.

Although Mrs. Upton and Mrs. Conlee work as a team, Mrs. Conlee has all returning juniors and seniors, therefore post-graduation preparation is a significant part of her curriculum.

For some students, impeding graduation and the college application process is overwhelming and scary. And sometimes, Mrs. Conlee is the only college advisor a student has, so she devotes at least 30 minutes each week to discussion about college applications, scholarships, ACT scores and determining which college is the right fit. Applying for the small scholarships is fruitful, she tells them, because those often go completely overlooked.

“I tell students that money for college doesn’t magically appear. We discuss scholarships early because I want to save them all the debt. Many students aspire to attend medical school, and if student loans are maxed out too early, there aren’t enough options later,” Mrs. Conlee said.

Towards the end of first quarter, Mrs. Conlee helps students narrow down college choices. She explains the difference between big schools and small schools, namely that if a student requires more attention, classes with 500 students might not be the best option. They are required to turn in a top five list of colleges and by Christmas break, apply to colleges of their choice.

In January, students begin filling out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and as a class, discuss different types of aid available to them. Since 95% of students qualify for Oklahoma Promise, it’s also Mrs. Conlee’s job to complete transcript checks periodically to ensure minimum grade point average requirements. Throughout this process, Mrs. Conlee reminds them to focus on their end goal.

“I encourage them to start with the end in mind and choose a school accordingly. Attending a big-name school doesn’t bring career guarantees and sometimes the same goal can be accomplished for a lot less money,” she said.

The success of former students is evidence of the vision Mrs. Upton and Mrs. Conlee create for them. In 2013, one of their students won the Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship, which paid for school in its entirety and included travel expenses to visit home. In 2014, Minh Ton won the Clara Luper Scholarship that funds her tuition, books, room and board at Oklahoma City University.

“The hard work all year pays off when they bring acceptance letters to class and we celebrate together. Many students will be the first generation in their family attending college so it’s a big deal,” Mrs. Conlee said.