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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


UWSMPH connects mentors, underrepresented medical students

BEAM provides faculty with mentor training to guide medical students through undergraduate experiences
Abby Cima

Navigating through academics and finding community on campus can feel daunting for undergraduate students. At the University of Wisconsin, the Building Equitable Access to Mentorship program through the UW School of Medicine and Public Health aims to address these difficulties by instructing faculty on how to guide underrepresented medical students through their undergraduate experience.

According to the UWSMPH website, BEAM started in partnership with the UWSMPH Kern National Network team. The goal was to provide underrepresented medical students of various ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds with resources and academic and social support during their time at UW.

BEAM is currently in its fourth year of affiliation with UWSMPH, with its first cohort of medical students graduating this year, according to the UWSMPH website.


The program is composed of a diverse community of faculty scholars that strive to implement socially conscious guidance for their mentees. BEAM mentors are assigned to a pod of three to four medical students to connect with throughout the school year, according to the website.

BEAM Director of Multicultural Affairs Manuel Santiago said, in 2014, students asked him about the lack of minority representation within UW faculty.

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“This spearheaded an idea in my mind of creating Office of Multicultural Affairs dinners where students and faculty would talk about their journeys through medical school,” Santiago said.

The dinners set the foundation for a more structured network between BIPOC faculty and students, Santiago said. This led to his collaboration with Christine Sorkness, Angela Byars-Winston and Tracy Downs to initiate BEAM.

The BEAM faculty meet twice a month to discuss management and plans for the program, Santiago said. BEAM operates on a system of training new mentors and enlisting new students during the fall semester and then recruiting new groups of mentors in the spring and summer.

The proportion of underrepresented students in the incoming medical school classes of 2019 and 2020 exceeded 30%. This created the need for a diverse team of role models who could empathize and connect with these students on a more personal level, according to the website. This means having hard conversations within the realm of diversity, equity and inclusion, Santiago said.

“The mentors that we recruit have a passion to give back because they may have experienced a similar journey as medical students to their mentees,” Santiago said.

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Mentors find motivation in guiding their students to avoid the mistakes they made while navigating through their undergraduate experience, Santiago said.

BEAM mentor Thalia Williams said mentoring students cultivates skills in effective communication and counseling.

“One skill that the program has developed in me is listening,” Williams said. “It is a precious stone to give to someone else to be there during every aspect of their education at UW. Our team is one of the most powerful think tanks that our school has.”

Williams said during her training sessions to become a mentor, she learned how to collaborate with students and provide them with the ongoing support they need in their first year.

BEAM fosters an understanding for mentors and students on how to have difficult conversations about microaggressions and racism. The program sheds light on what it looks like to stand up against racial injustices and what defines prejudice because these experiences are different for everybody, Williams said. BEAM has equipped her with the tools to recognize and respond to discrimination.

“During my first year, we had several workshops where I learned what microaggressions were,” Williams said. “I was exposed to a language of some of the challenges that individuals can have in a medical school setting as underrepresented minorities.”

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It is important for students to create roots within UW when starting their academic journey, Santiago said. BEAM is a place where underrepresented medical students can build a sense of community on campus in order to grow personally.

Last year, UWSMPH had 61 underrepresented minority students and half of them joined BEAM. For them, BEAM has always been another venue of support and guidance throughout their medical school experience, Santiago said.

“Not many schools have something like this,” Santiago said. “BEAM builds up a sense of community on both a mentor and student level.”

BEAM allows students and faculty to share their real life experiences, Williams said. Through this connection, mentors and mentees transition from feeling like strangers to family. The program develops mentors and mentees into people who are culturally competent and aware of the ups and downs that underrepresented medical students go through during their first year.

BEAM is a community of learners, mentors and professionals who are passionate about making sure individuals find their footing within the medical school, Williams said. Through witnessing faculty and mentors speak on their experiences as undergraduates, BEAM students gain insight into how they can flourish within the medical program and call Madison home.

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