AnnaMaria Mencarelli ’13 and Emily Miller ’15 are effervescent as they talk about the co-curricular program they’ve spearheaded. Their beloved topic? Health care.
Mencarelli clarifies that the name of the group, Aspiring Dox, might be a little misleading. “We could really call it ‘Aspiring Dox — and All Kinds of Other Health care Professionals,” she says. “But that probably doesn’t sound as good.”
Aspiring Dox exists in part to bring speakers and mentors to campus to assist students interested in pursuing health care as a profession — or at least seeing if it’s a direction worth heading. It’s a little like pre-med, but Aspiring Dox focuses on vocational discernment and networking alongside existing pre-med or pre-health curricular work, which still takes place with Willamette faculty.
In the last year, Aspiring Dox has brought 21 speakers to campus and connected more than 200 students with health care professionals. These have included an equine therapist, the principal and translator from the Oregon School for the Deaf, a senior health insurance benefits assistance (SHIBA) coordinator from Medicare, and a host of other doctors and trained workers.
One thing that tends to startle undergrads who are considering health care is the variety of options available to them.
“When freshmen come into the program,” Mencarelli says, “we start by asking them broadly, ‘How do you want to help people?’ rather than pegging them into a specific career right away. It’s exploratory in the beginning because people don’t know what’s out there.”
David Douglass, dean of campus life, has advocated for the program since its inception two years ago. He says that pre-med and pre-health are thorny fields by their nature, each combining wide intuitive appeal among young students with uncommonly stringent requirements to succeed — something that can lead to serious disappointment.
“It seems that 40, maybe 50 percent of incoming students these days want to be doctors or go into related fields,” Douglass says. “These occupations seem well-paying, secure and respected. But this can lead to a great falling out if students break their teeth on organic chemistry, for example, which is such a notoriously difficult subject to handle.”
This, Douglass says, is part of the reason Aspiring Dox came about: to show students that there are plenty of ways to pursue health care and related fields without following the track toward an MD.
“Health doesn’t have a single home, and that’s part of the challenge,” he says. “But by moving this kind of programming beyond the faculty domain, our student leaders created a more robust career-based, vocational discernment model.”
Part of this depends on help from the undergraduate Career Services office, which is the administrative home of Aspiring Dox. Director Jerry Houser has seen the payoffs as Mencarelli and Miller have tended to the budding program.
“Aspiring Dox has helped make Willamette a destination for prehealth,” Houser says. “It’s an exceptionally strong track here, and these kinds of programs help other students persist and make good decisions.”
Mencarelli started as an intern in Career Services but secured a Lilly Foundation grant to expand Aspiring Dox (it expires this year, and she is on the hunt for alternative funding). Along the way she has put in untold hours of work, scheduled and stewarded dozens of speakers, and dealt with the realities of administering a wide-ranging service in a continually evolving topical area.
One of the greatest assets she discovered along the way was Willamette’s alumni base. Aspiring Dox has also partnered with the alumni Career Network for contributors.
“We love to bring WU alumni in as speakers. There are many who work in these fields, and they connect so well with students,” she says. “They’re the ones who can come in and say, ‘I’ve been in your shoes, in your classrooms, and I know how this works.’”
Miller has begun taking on more and more responsibilities with Aspiring Dox and will probably stick around to see it through the next several years. “Absolutely, we would love to see more Willamette alumni come back as speakers,” she says. “They’re so generous with their time because they’re connected here.”
This year, Mencarelli and Miller have set up the program as a semimonthly speaker series that will include panels of health care professionals in the evenings, as well as individual speakers and provisions for one-on-one mentoring.
“We’ve grown so fast that we’ve had to ratchet back a little given our resources,” Mencarelli says. “But the demand for this has been outstanding and we continue to see waves of interested students.”
Douglass has watched the pair of student leaders gel and push Aspiring Dox ahead. “This is one of those great examples of student leadership that provides helpful service as well as development for the ones doing the work — they’re essentially taking on real administrative duties, allocating resources, reaching out to faculty and speakers. Anna and Emily have done a remarkable job.”
Calling All Health Care Alumni
Aspiring Dox relies on the assistance of Willamette alumni speakers and mentors. If you’re a health care professional and think you might be able to speak to these topics (or even just offer networking, advice or encouragement), contact the alumni Career Network at firstname.lastname@example.org. Current students would love your support.
AnnaMaria Mencarelli ’13
Emily Miller ’15