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Patient Stories

Braxton’s Bright Future

Northwestern Medicine Scholar Lights Up the World With Solar Energy

Published March 2021

Black people make up 13.4% of the U.S. population, but only 6.2% of medical school graduates. Black men comprise an even smaller percentage of these graduates.

Acknowledging this gap in representation, the Northwestern Medicine Scholars Program at Westinghouse Prep aims to equip students from minority groups with the tools and experience they need to pursue careers in medicine and science so that the medical field better reflects the patients it serves. The extensive and immersive summer-long program involves shadowing, mentoring, and academic and professional support. Roughly 60% of the scholars pursue majors in science, technology, engineering or math in college.

Making the World Brighter

Braxton Jenkins graduated from the NM Scholars program and is now a senior at Valparaiso University in Indiana. The mechanical engineering major chose this path because he wanted to make the world better — and brighter.

"I chose this major because I want to innovate solar panels and put them in underserved communities of color in Chicago and the Chicago metro area," he says.

Jenkins is well on his way to this goal. During his freshman and sophomore years of college, he traveled to Haiti and Guatemala to install solar panel systems at an orphanage and health clinic as a part of a group called Working Across Vocations Everywhere through Service (WAVES). Through an organization called Companion Community Development (CoCoDa), which aims to improve relations between Latin America and the U.S., Braxton spent time in El Salvador and Nicaragua conducting evaluations on dysfunctional solar panel systems in rural villages.

Jenkins has worked on making Chicago brighter, too. As an intern with F.H. Paschen, he worked on the construction of the 95th Street Terminal on the Chicago Transit Authority's Red Line train, and an annex addition onto Emiliano Zapata Academy, an elementary school in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood. Looking to the future, Jenkins and WAVES are planning to work with the Chicago Westside Branch of the NAACP and Blacks in Green, an organization dedicated to building green communities on Chicago's South Side, developing solar energy generation stations.

Internships and experiences aside, Jenkins says his favorite part of college is being a member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), where he's met his closest engineering friends, role models and mentees.

"I have grown as a friend and a servant-leader through this organization," he says.

Northwestern Medicine Cardiologist Clyde W. Yancy, MD, was a mentor to Jenkins in the Northwestern Medicine Scholars Program.

"Braxton has not wavered from his dream of bringing clean energy through his skills in mechanical engineering to his home communities in Chicago," says Dr. Yancy. "Braxton and his peer scholars represent our path forward. They will become the architects of our future."

Clyde W. Yancy, MD
Clyde W. Yancy, MD
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