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Omaha Magazine

From Anatomy to Xrays

Mar 08, 2023 04:46PM ● By Kim Carpenter

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

Carter Moss commutes 90 minutes every day during the week to get to his classes. He doesn’t have to make the drive; the 17-year-old senior could easily attend Plattsmouth High School all day. Instead, he’s eager to hit the road to get to UNMC’s High School Alliance at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where he does everything from reading CT scans to harvesting liver cells from mice. He even shadows UNMC’s world-renowned doctors and scientists.

“I’ve obtained knowIedge and improved my scientific understanding,” said Moss, who hopes to become a pediatric oncologist. “My days are always interesting. I don’t think I would have gotten this education elsewhere.”

He’s right. The High School Alliance is one of a handful of immersive healthcare-centered secondary educational programs in the country. Founded during the 2010/11 school year, the program is open to all public school juniors and seniors in the greater metro area. College-level classes, held Monday through Friday from 1 to 3 p.m. on UNMC’s campus, focus on healthcare topics like genetics, anatomy, patient care, infectious disease, behavioral health, and more.

It’s a competitive program. The first year, 32 students enrolled; today, 75 attend annually out of a pool of around 200 applicants. Typically, students participate for one year, although some go onto a second as “stellar seniors.” To be eligible, students must complete an interview, be on track to graduate, and have earned a grade of “B” or above in algebra 1, biology, a physical science class, and a third-year science class.

“And they have to have the desire. They have to want to be here,” added program director Heidi Kaschke. “This is more than a field trip. We try to simulate what classes will be like in college.”

The program also gives students a real-life view of what careers in healthcare involve. Noting that many students enter the Alliance with specific career plans—many young men, for example, want to become orthopedic surgeons, whereas women frequently cite NICU nurses as their chosen career path; exposure to a variety of healthcare professions introducing new possibilities.

“They can decide, “Do I really want to do this?” Kaschke explained. “We had one student who didn’t want to do the ‘blood and guts’ of healthcare. She ended up majoring in business and earned a masters in hospital administration because this program allowed her to see a variety of healthcare careers. We want students to see that there are many, many options.”
Former students become surgeons, psychiatrists, dentists, nurses, public health administrators, lab technicians, and medical researchers, among other healthcare professions.

This is what attracted 17-year-old Khadijah Hammal Haddad, a Millard South junior, to apply. 
“The program sounded very interesting,” she said. “We’ve done hands-on work in labor and delivery like learning how to do ultrasounds and other medical imaging and interpret them. Not many people get this kind of opportunity.”

Bella Gurzick, 18, a Millard North senior, agreed. “This has been an amazing experience. When I first went into the program, I was dead set on neuroscience, but I spent time in the pancreatic cancer research lab at the Buffett Cancer Center, and I got to set up PCR reactions [polymerase chain reactions]. I’ve gotten lots of insights into careers I didn’t know existed.”

Sometimes, students even return for that second “stellar senior” year. Central High School senior Amritasha Singh developed a keen interest in HIV research while in the program and as a summer UNMC Travis Lewis Scholar, which allows students to participate in research in virology, immunology, neurodegeneration, and neuroregeneration. 

The exposure was instrumental in the 17-year-old’s desire to pursue a related field. “I feel like it opened a lot more opportunities for me,” Singh observed. “I want to be a CNA [certified nursing assistant] or pharmacy tech. This program has been an affirmation of what I really want to pursue.”

Dr. Benson Edagwa is gratified to hear that. Internationally recognized for his research into the efficacy of conventional antiretroviral therapies, he focuses on HIV-1, tuberculosis, medicinal and polymer chemistry, and drug delivery. Singh works in his lab. 

Edagwa said he has enjoyed his time training high schoolers. “These students are not only talented but also very inquisitive, highly motivated, and good at following research directions. They ask many questions that challenge conventional assumptions in scientific research, and this helps us to be patient, open-minded, find gaps in what is known, and explore new ideas.” 

Noting that the experience helps him communicate research findings to non-experts, Edagwa knows he’s contributing to shaping the future of the healthcare industry. “It is also so rewarding professionally to watch these next generation scientists and problem solvers learn and become familiar with equipment and laboratory assays that help us create knowledge and solutions to biomedical problems.”

Solving those kinds of problems is what makes Carter Moss’s daily drive a pleasure. “Getting to learn one-on-one and have the experience of running all sorts of tests has been the most concrete experience for me,” Moss said. “That one-on-one approach and being part of the process and seeing how things are done are super interesting.”

The only quibble he and his classmates have? “I wish we could spend the whole school day here.”

For more information about UNMC’s High School Alliance program, visit

This article originally appeared in the 2023 edition of 
Family Guide

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.


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