Summer camp introduces high schoolers to healthcare career opportunities

Ashleigh White was on track to attend another university in a different state, but after her experience during the Colorado Area Health Education Center’s (COAHEC) career exploration summer camp program, she changed pathways and found her academic home at UCCS.

The summer camp, part of the Health Occupations Promoting Health Equity (HOPE) Institute, was held for 42 underrepresented minority high school students from across Colorado, including those from rural and frontier counties.

“One of the most valuable things that came from attending HOPE is that it solidified my desire to go to UCCS,” said White.  

The COAHEC state Program Office at the Anschutz Medical Campus, in partnership with the UCCS Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences staff, faculty and students, developed and administered the first in-person HOPE Institute summer camp in July.

Kevin Laudner, dean of the Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences, said, “We are hoping that opportunities like the HOPE summer camp and other initiatives that target rural areas and students from underrepresented areas, will encourage these individuals to enroll in colleges like Johnson Beth-El and others to pursue careers in the health care and human performance fields.”

The summer camp program experience provides underrepresented students like White, who are interested in healthcare career educational, mentorship and career exploration, opportunities to realize their goals. Students find themselves in the classroom or labs, learning what excites them, and they see how achievable their dream really is. The program also encourages them to return to service in the communities from which they hail.

“As a person from an underrepresented minority background trying to find opportunities to realize my healthcare career goals, I would have done anything to have an opportunity such as HOPE to help me get there,” said Josina Romero O’Connell MD, COAHEC Director. “HOPE not only invests in diverse students, but also helps level the playing field by giving them opportunities to excel in ways other students may take for granted.”

HOPE Institute summer camp program participants lived in the dorms at UCCS and attended various exploration activities at UCCS and the Anschutz Medical Campus during the weeklong camp. Participants also spent time with faculty in the classrooms and laboratories at University Hall in the Simulation Center, at the Hybl Center, and at the Lane Center.

Camp participants learned basic nursing skills and then applied the skills they learned during two simulated patient scenarios in the Simulation Center.

Program participants were also introduced to the altitude and environmental chambers during a tour of the sports medicine and performance research and education facility, the Hybl Center. Students also participated in hands-on activities in the cadaver, athletic training and exercise science laboratories.

“I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of the HOPE institute camp,” said White. “It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I gained so much from the week. Throughout the week we stayed at the campus and really got to see how welcoming this college environment is. We got to experience and tour some fascinating buildings and labs. The Hybl Center is amazing. Knowing I want to go into sports medicine, attending UCCS is the place for me – UCCS is where I need and want to be to accomplish my dreams.”

Later in the week, the UCCS Health Circle Center for Active Living (CAL) at the Lane Center, introduced program participants to the CAL gym and kitchen. CAL uses those spaces to provide wellness programming for a variety of populations in the Colorado Springs community, while simultaneously training students from different disciplines to work and learn together to improve health and wellness outcomes. Program participants prepared food and learned nutrition basics and about careers in health promotion.

HOPE Institute students also took part in the COAHEC Cadaver experience at the UCCS cadaver lab in the Hybl Center, which included learning cardiopulmonary and lower extremity anatomy and experience in the lab learning about cell differentiation.

COAHEC also hosted a career and job mini conference at UCCS, allowing program participants not only to network but also become aware of healthcare job opportunities in which they could invest their time and talent while continuing their education.

Dean Laudner, who initiated conversations between UCCS and the COAHEC program, said that the connection with COAHEC was very natural.

“The mission of the Jonson Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences is to increase workforce development among health care and human performance professionals within our communities,” he said. “A large part of southern Colorado includes rural communities, and they have a significant shortage of these health and human performance professionals. Johnson Beth-El has been very strategic in creating initiatives that target the rural areas and areas with underrepresented students within our disciplines. COAHEC and UCCS share similar visions, and combining resources to reach and positively impact more students benefited everyone.”

HOPE Institute participants said they enjoyed the college experience and hands-on activities that introduced them to various healthcare career pathways. Learn more about HOPE here.

About AHEC

The Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program was developed by Congress in 1971 to recruit, train, and retain a health professions’ workforce committed to rural and underserved populations in the US. The Colorado AHEC system was established in 1977 by Dean Richard Krugman. All AHECs are funded by HRSA AHEC Model grants which are renewed in 5-year grant cycles to attend to the overall mission of AHECs in the US.

Today, AHECs serve 85% of the counties in America including American territories. This Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funded network provides health education services to students, faculty, and local practitioners, ultimately improving healthcare delivery link between university health science centers and rural and underserved areas of our nation.

Learn more about the COAHEC at

About Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences

The Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences has trained and educated the region’s health professionals fand human performance professionals for over 118 years, and in 2022, is celebrating 25 years at University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS). At Johnson Beth-El, students meet the needs of a rapidly changing healthcare landscape by providing innovative and connected programs.

Johnson Beth-El’s nursing program is approved by the Colorado Board of Nursing, accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, and the Clinical Simulation Learning Center is accredited by the Society for Simulation in Healthcare. The online graduate program for nursing is ranked No. 29 nationally and also boasts the No. 12 ranking for Best Online master’s in nursing program for Veterans by U.S. News & World Report. Learn more about the Johnson Beth-El at