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I nominate Katherine Heath for the Michigan Heroes Award. Katherine was nominated for the Governor’s Service Award in 2020 just prior to the pandemic that changed the landscape of our state and our personal environment.
Katherine’s dedication to volunteering evolved into an insatiable curiosity about science, medicine, healthcare, and society. As a high school student, she participated in successful research studies, winning international recognition for her work. Her positive energy and ideas moved the Karmanos Cancer Institute to implement her FocuSStem NextGen program, a curriculum that we now consider the signature high school program.
The FocuSStem NextGen program serves 440 high schools in the tri-county, Southeastern Michigan area. Over 270,000 high school students have the possibility to experience an immersive, one-day, hands-on event at our center-and this is because of Katherine. Located in Detroit, the Karmanos Cancer Institute, a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center is an urban medical center whose mission is the screening, prevention, and treatment of cancer patients. Katherine advocated and built a program in science and healthcare, enabling her peers to have equal access, regardless of economic or educational disparities. She has re-energized our faculty and staff encouraging them to focus on the city’s youth as tomorrow’s leaders.
After a successful FocuSStem NextGen session, several students wanted a more in-depth healthcare education experience. Katherine then provided me a draft of a summer program where students could spend each day learning about a new healthcare career—an exploration not available in school. Katherine created the FocuSStem NextGen Summer Intensive allowing 20 high school students to spend two weeks learning different aspects of science, medicine, and technology. She developed the infrastructure and collaborated with faculty to create a “Lunch with Leadership” series. In her words, there was no better way to learn about being a CEO than talking to the CEO directly.
In addition, the Three Dot Dash Foundation has recognized her accomplishments and passion as she has been selected from hundreds of applicants from 80+ countries from around the world to be a 2020 Global Teen Leader. She and 34 other young leaders from 18 countries on 6 continents were to meet at a Global Just Peace Summit in New York City prior to the pandemic.
As part of the Local 4 News broadcast highlighting FocuSStem and a high school attendee was interviewed. She shared that she was inspired to see someone Katherine’s age “pull this off.” Her words exemplify what my colleagues and I believe about Katherine. Katherine built a culture of enthusiastic advocacy by demonstrating to our Institute leaders that they need to invest in the next generation. In 2020, many of the FocuSStem attendees will be starting as Institute volunteers and several will spend their STEM elective hours with our faculty researchers. Katherine’s peers have been motivated to gain additional knowledge in areas they never considered from themselves. Katherine is a young person who understands the value of service while maintaining the highest academic scholarship and earning the respect of her peers, teachers, faculty, and staff.
Katherine is well known in the metro Detroit community. Her dedication to serving others is recognized by many leaders in Southeastern Michigan.
Within her high school community, Katherine was recognized as a generous and humble leader, helping her peers and developing sustainable infrastructures in clubs and initiatives that continued after she has graduated and began attending Duke University in the fall of 2020. Katherine is well known as an excellent flutist, serving as chairperson and drum major for the marching band. She inspired the students of Tri-M Music Honor Society where she served as President to give back to the community. An example of their success is played at Sunrise of Troy, an assisted living facility where students entertain the residents with solos/duets and sing-a-longs. Katherine was also a winner of the School Band and Orchestra Magazine Essay Scholarship on March 15, 2019, where she was one of 10 finalists from a pool of several thousand applications in the US. The scholarship provided $1,000 and music products for her high school. She donated her winnings to the school to support more Master Classes for her peers.
Katherine’s sense of social justice has also been nurtured and developed in her role as Junior Fellow at the PuLSE Institute, Detroit’s anti-poverty think tank (www.thepulsinstitute.org). Under the guidance of Mr. Bankole Thompson, the Institute’s editor-in-chief and Ms. Tina Patterson, Esq, the president and director of research, Katherine’s ability to articulate the need to support students from under-resourced and under-served areas in STEM education exponentially increased. As per Mr. Thompson, “At a time when STEM education is at the crucible of the global economic frontiers, it will be of tremendous value to have a student like Katie who has shown a selfless and tenacious desire to work for the greater good of our communities.” Her involvement with the PuLSE Institute has integrated well with her efforts in leading BuildOn to conduct fundraisers and collect donations such as winter clothing, blankets, and hygiene products. Rev C. Paschal Eze has posted several times on Facebook his thoughts on Katherine’s efforts to help the homeless. “Katie Heath Does It Again…Because of her love for the #homeless and hurting in our community, Katie raised $1000 cash and collected 1500 items hygiene kit drive that were donated to the Detroit Rescue Mission. Please join us in saying a big Thank You to this compassionate teenager who leads the BuildOn group at #BloomfieldHills High School.”
With regards to her STEM initiatives, Katherine is well recognized not only at the Karmanos Cancer Institute, but at Wayne State University School of Medicine, the American Cancer Society, and the MiSTEM Advisory Committee. She is also recognized nationally and internationally for her research work as she won Best Poster for her laboratory research at the Great Lakes International Imaging and Flow Cytometry Association 28th Annual Meeting, September 28, 2019, Troy, MI and her oral presentation of her clinical research at the Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, December 1, 2019, Chicago, IL.
With the onset of the pandemic, Katie and the rest of the student-run executive board quickly recognized that they needed to pivot and adapt the FocuSStem NextGen Program to ensure its long-term success and viability. In the summer of 2020, the FocuSStem NextGen Intensive program went virtual, literally utilizing virtual reality as the educational platform. Katie and the team were able to work with experts to offer STEM immersion using virtual reality headsets, enabling high school students to learn about the virtual laboratory from their homes. In the past 2 years, Katie has taken what she has learned at Duke University and exported her knowledge to benefit her peers in Michigan. One exciting event was the FocuSStem NextGen Virtual Challenge in 2021 where students participated in a team exercise to create a solution to a real-life problem addressing the decline in cancer screening. Another event was the FocuSStem NextGen Summit in 2021 where STEM experts and students gathered to learn from one another about careers, networking, and new technology. Over 80 students from 59 different high schools from 9 states connected with one another at this event where they shared their passion for STEM. Currently, there are nearly 30 students from 12 different area high schools that meet virtually every month to engage with STEM faculty experts. Despite the challenges that the pandemic has presented, Katie has remained steadfast in her dedication to ensure that her peers have equal access to STEM programs. At Duke University, Katie is majoring in public policy and serves as part of Bass Connections, a program empowering prevention of cervical cancer in Peru. She also is a leader of the Duke Student Collaborative on Health Policy. Katie continues to share the mission of FocuSStem NextGen as a keynote speaker at the Global Innovation and Youth Leaders Summit 2020 and as an invited speaker at the Michigan Pre-College and Youth Outreach Conference in 2021.