“My little nurse” — Brianna Manker still remembers what she was called when, at only 3 or 4, she would go to the refrigerator to get her grandmother’s insulin.
Brianna is grown up now — she just graduated from high school — but in a way, the nickname she earned as a toddler provided a goal that remained with her. She became a Certified Nursing Assistant in her junior year, is about to take the board exam for her Licensed Practical Nurse certification, and starts college in the fall at Florida A&M University to earn a degree in nursing. Still, she says, getting this close to her dream job might not have been possible without the School-to-Work program at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami.
That’s where the Miller School of Medicine comes in. School-to-Work is a workplace-based one-on-one mentoring program in which employees at a participating organization volunteer to spend four hours a month working with a high school student. The University of Miami signed on in 2013. Brianna came into the program two years ago as a junior in the Academy of Medical Science track at William H. Turner Technical Arts High School.
“The School-to-Work program helps kids learn who they want to become,” said Aniette Lauredo, manager of inclusion programs, who runs the program for UM, “but it’s also good for us. School-to-Work is an example of our values in action. As a community partner, we want to be a positive role model.
“This is also an opportunity to invest our time and our talents in developing future leaders. A lot of kids have dreams but, depending on their circumstances, it can be difficult for them to fulfill those dreams. We show them that the dream exists, and it exists for them. We are facing shortages in doctors and nurses, so this program also helps us recruit. We’re connecting early with kids who may be future employees.”
The monthly get-togethers typically begin with the students (referred to as “Littles” in the program) arriving on the medical campus and having a group breakfast with the volunteer mentors (referred to as “Bigs”). Next is an educational event that may include guest speakers and/or a tour of an area the students are interested in learning more about. The group then breaks up into pairs, giving an opportunity for valuable one-on-one interaction. It may involve job shadowing, in which the student observes their mentor at work, or it may simply be conversation and advice about life skills. Following a group lunch, the students return to school.
As they prepared to graduate, Brianna and two other high school seniors who have been in the program for at least two years say they have come a long way together, and each of them has a different story to tell.
Brianna Manker & Nicole Adams Lergier
Brianna was matched with Nicole Adams Lergier, director of business operations for the Immunomonitoring and Histocompatibility Laboratory in the DeWitt Daughtry Family Department of Surgery.
“Brianna is a very determined young lady,” said Lergier. “She has known from early on that she wanted to pursue a career in nursing. She wanted to work on a lot of things like public speaking, being comfortable in group settings, relationship issues and interacting with others. These are important, because she will come into contact with all kinds of personalities in the medical setting.”
Brianna believes she has made real progress.
“She brought me out of my shell,” she said of Lergier. “The program has helped me so much — not just with school but with things like college applications and letters of recommendation. My family is so excited that I’m going to nursing school.”
Brianna will receive financial assistance from the Continuing Education & Scholarship Program, created in 2008 by the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami in partnership with the Five Millers Family Foundation. It provides scholarship funding to graduating high school students who successfully complete the School-to-Work program and commit to furthering their education.
Asaiah Alexander & Nanette Vega
“Everyone needs a mentor,” said Asaiah Alexander. “Everyone needs someone to look up to.”
That is what Asaiah got when she was matched with Nanette Vega, executive director of the Miller School’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
“I want to be a nurse practitioner,” said Asaiah. “I have a cousin in Orlando who is a nurse practitioner, and she has been a role model for me. Nanette has pointed the way to help me get there.”
Like Brianna, Asaiah will enter the nursing program at Florida A&M University in the fall.
“Asaiah is a natural leader with an eagerness to learn; she is very well rounded,” said Vega. “She was always a driven student — to be in the medical magnet program she is in, you have to be. Asaiah and I have gone beyond the traditional mentor-mentee relationship. I have served more as her advisor on anything related to the transition from high school to college. I know that mentoring can have a long-term impact on your life and your career. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my own mentors. It has been an honor to serve.”
Asaiah credits the School-to-Work program with helping her become more certain of following in her cousin’s footsteps.
“A friend at school referred me to the program, and I am so glad she did,” Asaiah said. “Nanette has opened a lot of doors for me.”
Asaiah has also received a scholarship from the Continuing Education & Scholarship Program.
Steeve Louis & James Konschnik
Steeve Louis can pinpoint the day he decided to become a physician. It was January 12, 2010, the day a 7-magnitude earthquake struck his home country of Haiti, killing a quarter of a million people and injuring countless others.
“I felt angry and helpless,” he said. “We simply didn’t have enough doctors, and there was so little I could do personally to assist those in need. I decided then that I wanted to become a doctor.”
His career goal gained further direction after Steeve relocated to Miami in 2012.
“I discovered neuroscience in my junior year when a psychology teacher taught us how the brain functions, and I hope to become a neurosurgeon,” he said. “Other changes came when the School-to-Work program was recommended to me.”
Steeve was matched with James Konschnik, development director of the Miami Transplant Institute.
“A lot of these kids have great potential, but there is no one to guide them,” said Konschnik. “I tell Steeve not to let anything hold him back, but that’s already his nature. Steeve is always the first one in and the last one out. He doesn’t waste a moment of his time. That’s why he is going to be so successful.
“He’s never been a shy kid, but now he is even more confident. He acts very professionally, too. When I take him touring and he meets people, he has very polished manners. His presentation skills were always very good, but he has really grown.”
Steeve says he has gained more than career and relationship skills from the program; Konschnik has also helped him see the possibilities for his life.
“It has changed how I see everything, including financially,” Steeve said. “I learned that I could afford to go to college.”
Steeve will be attending the University of San Francisco with financial assistance from the university’s Ignatius and Black Scholars programs.
“The School-to-Work program has been very successful,” said Lauredo. “We know that for two reasons. First, everybody shows up and actively participates — that’s how you know they are really engaged. Second, we recently conducted a survey of the students and volunteers to see how we can better meet the needs of both sides. Both suggested more frequent activity. Everybody wants more time together.”
There will be two information sessions for UHealth and Miller School employees who are interested in signing up for the School-to-Work program for the coming academic year. The first will be held Wednesday, August 8 at 10 a.m. at the Batchelor Children’s Research Institute, Baxter Conference Room 139, ground floor. The second will be held Tuesday, August 14 at 1 p.m. at The Lennar Foundation Medical Center. To RSVP, email Lauredo at email@example.com.