Feature Story

With Baxter’s Support, Chicago’s First Charter Health Sciences Career Academy Graduates Founding Class

Many students among the first generation in their families to attend college

IHSCA students

Since the school's launch, IHSCA students have participated in Baxter's summer internship program and career days, engaged in STEM-related projects and learned about engineering careers and college degrees from Baxter volunteers.

In June, 132 Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy (IHSCA) seniors walked across the stage and accepted their diplomas as members of the school's first graduating class. Ninety-six percent of these graduates were accepted into college, earning more than $4 million in grants and scholarships. In addition, many of the students in this pioneering class will be the first in their families to attend college, according to Alfredo Nambo, assistant principal at IHSCA.

"This founding class was never a group to just sit down and be comfortable with how things were," Nambo said. "They were always asking for new challenges and really helped make IHSCA the strong school that it is today. My biggest hope is that they will have successful college and post-secondary experiences and then come back to the school and community and be positive role models for those students following in their footsteps."

Founded by the Instituto del Progreso Latino, IHSCA opened in 2010 as Chicago's first charter health science career academy, with the help of start-up funding and hands-on support from Baxter. Dedicated to preparing students for healthcare careers, the school serves approximately 750 students from across the city in its newly built 100,000 square-foot educational center in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. The school is dedicated to addressing the shortage of Latinos represented in healthcare careers and to supporting Chicago's efforts to provide high-quality education options. IHSCA provides students with a rigorous college prep curriculum that prepares them for success in competitive colleges and universities, and offers the opportunity for students to earn professional certifications for entry-level positions in healthcare. It also provides job shadowing, career-readiness and internship programs in an effort to create the next generation of healthcare leaders.

In addition to the $4 million in scholarship funding that the graduating class received, three seniors were also named Illinois Scholars by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. Senior Armando Barajas, who participated in Baxter's 2013 summer internship, was also selected for the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholar program.The program is offered to 1,000 talented students each year and provides a good-through-graduation scholarship to use at any college or university of the student's choice. Students are also provided with leadership development opportunities, mentoring and academic and social support throughout their post-secondary education to help ensure college graduation and early career success. Barajas plans to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the fall and will study biochemistry.

"Until I found out I received this scholarship, I was actually planning to take a year off from school to save money for college," Barajas says. "It's an incredible opportunity, and I only heard about the program after a representative came to IHSCA to speak about it."

Graduate Tyler Johnson agrees that the support she's received from the teachers, staff and friends she's made at IHSCA have helped her realize her true potential.

"I don't think I would be where I am today if I'd attended any other high school," said Johnson, who lost two siblings to violence while she was in high school. "IHSCA is just one of a kind. Every time I felt like my motor was about to run out, the school helped refuel me."

During her time at IHSCA, Johnson took courses in certified nursing and medical billing and will be attending Sagrado Corazon University in Puerto Rico in the fall to study nursing.

As part of its commitment to education—both in helping prepare high school students for science careers, as well as in addressing disparities in educational opportunities among underserved populations—Baxter has remained involved with students and teachers since its support of the school's launch in 2010.

Jorge Pliego

Jorge Pliego was part of the first graduating class from IHSCA. Ninety-six percent of the students were accepted into college, and the class earned more than $4 million in grants and scholarships. (Photo courtesy of Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy. Used with permission.)

For example, Baxter scientists and other employee volunteers have taught lessons as part of career development days, sponsored lab tours and provided career advice to students throughout the year. Last summer, several IHSCA rising seniors took part in Baxter's second annual summer high school internship program. The students spent the week learning from nearly 75 Baxter professionals about business strategy, current trends in the healthcare environment, and the variety of functional roles necessary within the company. They also toured the company's Round Lake, Ill. lab and took part in hands-on experiments in research and development. Every student left Baxter with an updated resume, networking strategies and tips for thriving in college.

The company's Latinos@Baxter Business Resource Group has also been involved in volunteer efforts with the school. Last year, members of Latinos@Baxter were part of Noche de Ciencia at IHSCA, during which the group joined other companies and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers to participate in a panel for parents of students about careers in engineering, the benefits of a college degree, and college financial aid.

"The support we've received from Baxter has been crucial in developing IHSCA into the rigorous school that it is today, and in helping these graduates secure college acceptances and plan for successful careers," says Juan Salgado, President and CEO of Instituto del Progreso Latino.