Thursday, April 27, 2017


Video by Mei-Ling Shaw Williams

By Andy Goodell

Project HOPE (Healthcare Occupations Preparation and Exploration) is a STEM-based curricular intervention that integrates academic and vocational opportunities designed to connect minority and low socioeconomic middle school students to the health science professions early in their education. The program is of particular importance to rural Iowa youth.

Saba Ali, director of Project HOPE and professor of counseling psychology, re-searches vocational psychology, employment issues, and career development of under-served youth. She says the pro-gram serves as a way to broaden the horizons of young rural Iowans.

Saba Ali

Saba Ali

“We created a program, an intervention essentially, that would help students to think about what does their community need and how is it that they can find a career that both provides them the career advancement and also meets the community needs,” says Ali. “The work that I do really looks at the career aspirations of rural students and how we help them achieve those career aspirations.”

Ali is collaborating with Rossina Liu (PhD ‘15), clinical assistant professor of the Language Literacy, and Culture program. Liu’s research focuses on community/public literacy, nonfiction writing pedagogy, writing across the curriculum, and folklore and education. She is partnering with Project Hope to help students explore healthcare careers through creative writing.

With all 99 of Iowa’s counties considered “medically underserved,” Ali says the importance of healthcare career opportunities in these areas is vital.

“Getting people to go back to rural communities and serve those medically could be both a boost to the community but also to individuals’ career development,” says Ali. “The idea really is to try to get them to understand that they have something to contribute to the economy, to their community in particular.”

The program integrates well into existing career planning programs in rural Iowa, notes Ali.

“What’s nice is that Project HOPE easily fits into a lot of these programs that rural schools in particular have for creating this career plan,” Ali says.

Project HOPE enables people to take the long view of their careers and the possibilities that are there for them. This program has the distant future of rural Iowa in its sights.

“What’s important is that we need to think about the sort of future generations that might live and work in rural communities and how we contribute to the revitalization of the economy of rural areas,” says Ali. “I think we need to look at rural areas as places where we can grow the economy, where we can grow new businesses, where there’s entrepreneurship.”

Read more from the 2017 Alumni Magazine.