Children are often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

A new partnership will encourage Pomona students to dream big when they think about their answer.

Pomona Unified School District, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and Western University of Health Sciences are partnering to guide Pomona students through their education and into careers as health care professionals.

Dr. Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, PhD, superintendent of Pomona Unified School District, Dr. J. Michael Ortiz, PhD, president of Cal Poly Pomona, and Dr. Philip Pumerantz, PhD, president of Western University of Health Sciences, introduced the Pomona Health Career Ladder program at a signing ceremony on Wednesday, June 11, 2008 at Cortez Mathematics and Science Magnet School in Pomona.

The Career Ladder will identify math and science scholars in Pomona schools, guide them through an undergraduate health/science degree at Cal Poly Pomona and into health professions programs at WesternU through a program-based network of outreach, guidance, mentoring and financial assistance. In addition, the parties hope to generate support groups to provide private sources of financial aid for these scholars. The ultimate goal is to produce health care professionals who will serve the Pomona community.

The three organizations are all involved in the Pomona Youth and Family Master Plan, which addresses problems such as gang violence and poor academic achievement by fostering a caring community that promotes positive youth development through collaboration. The Career Ladder is one of their major contributions to this effort.

An advisory committee composed of representatives of all three institutions is being developed to create the details of the program, establish selection criteria and develop the processes of mentoring and supporting students throughout their time in the program.

Cal Poly and WesternU officials also signed the first link in the Career Ladder pipeline. Cal Poly will establish a process for its students to apply to WesternU and WesternU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP) will develop acceptance criteria for these Cal Poly students.

The Career Ladder provides a wonderful option for PUSD students, Meléndez de Santa Ana said. She recalled a famous quote from comedian Milton Berle, who said, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

“We’re building a door to a whole range of new possibilities,” Meléndez de Santa Ana said. “Our parents want more options for our students.”

The Career Ladder will guide and assist the many Pomona students who have aspirations to enter the medical field, Ortiz said.

“By providing the incentive, goals and opportunities, it’s going to have a significant impact on our community,” he said.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote in “El Dorado” that an aspiration is a joy forever, and the journey is more important than to arrive, Pumerantz said. One major goal of the program is to give students the chance to dream of what could be, he said. They will progressively reach for higher goals – graduating from high school, earning a college degree, then completing a graduate degree.

“This Career Ladder has extraordinary power,” Pumerantz said. “It can give children a vision of the future.”

As a symbol of this future, two COMP faculty members, Alan Cundari, DO, MS, and Elizabeth Rega, PhD, cloaked two Cortez sixth-graders, Cesar Perez and Xena Perez, in white coats. The two students represented all Pomona Unified students who will have the opportunity to participate in the Career Ladder program. Wearing the white coat represents a tremendous amount of responsibility, both for the student and their professors.

“It is important students recognize we are committed to their education,” Cundari said.

The Career Ladder program will combine technical and scientific skills with compassion and humanism, Pumerantz said.

“Add the two together, the result will be absolutely extraordinary,” he said.