- by Mount Saint Mary College

Three Mount Saint Mary College students have been accepted to the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Scholars Program, where they will care for underserved people living in rural and medically disadvantaged areas throughout New York State.

AHEC is a two-year, interdisciplinary program with a defined set of clinical, didactic, and community-based training activities. Students in the program gain a valuable understanding of the numerous social and cultural factors that influence an individual's overall health and their ability to access quality care. By exposing students to social, financial, and cultural issues of care, this program aims to support the development of future healthcare professionals who are able to provide high-quality, patient-centric care to all members of their community.

Susan LaRocco, dean of the Mount's School of Nursing, Linda Kelly, assistant professor of Nursing, and the Mount's HEOP/CSTEP department worked closely with Megan Deichler, the executive director of the Catskill Hudson Area Health Education Center (CHAHEC), to bring this unique learning opportunity to Mount students.

Photo of Olivia Rice

Olivia Rice of New Windsor, N.Y., a Nursing major and one of the three Mount students accepted to theAHEC Scholars Program, said she applied after reading about the organization's mission to help eliminate health disparities and promote wellness in communities that need it most.

"I think this is a huge issue in today's world that, especially after the effects of COVID in underserved communities, needs to be addressed immediately," Rice explained. "I believe this program will allow me to become the best nurse I can be by exposing me to the various healthcare problems had by people of all backgrounds."

Rice does not believe that a career in healthcare alone is enough to fix these issues, she said.

"Developing therapeutic relationships with patients is key to their success and wellness," she noted. "I don't see how we can fully serve our communities without understanding healthcare disparities and knowing how to help."

Two students from the Mount's CSTEP program, Sonamjit Kaur of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and Nicole Villachica of Newburgh, N.Y., both Nursing majors, were also admitted to the AHEC Scholars Program. In alignment with the AHEC's mission, CSTEP works to increase the number of underrepresented students who possess strong academic and personal potential – and might otherwise have been excluded from higher education due to economic disadvantage – to pursue careers in mathematics, science, technology, health-related fields or a licensed profession.

Photo of Nicole Villachica

Throughout Villachica's childhood, her mother was very sick. She remembers feeling helpless, she explained.

"When I was a kid there was no funding, everything had a price, and my mother could never afford it," said Villachica.

Growing up in Newburgh, she thought the poverty she and her mother experienced was normal. It wasn't until she went to high school that she realized the various disadvantages she and her mother experienced were not standard for everyone.

"My mother would say, 'Work hard and achieve more than I ever could,' and, ever since my mother fell ill, I knew I had to go into the healthcare system," Villachica said.

Kaur also applied to the AHEC Scholars Program because of a desire to better patient care, she said: "What can be better than making a person who is sick to feel comfortable in a healthcare setting?"

Photo of Sonamjit Kaur

Kaur is looking forward to conducting research in the program that will guide her understanding of the most effective ways to improve every patient's experience in a healthcare facility. She added, "If I had not been in the CSTEP Program, I would not have been aware of all the internship opportunities. They do an amazing job with letting the student know about all the opportunities that are available that we otherwise would not have known about."

The CSTEP, Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program, recruits underrepresented student populations into the Mount's prestigious Nursing, Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Information Technology programs. The Mount program provides dozens of students with academic and financial support, as well as a variety of enrichment activities to help them achieve and maintain success.


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