Jun 26, 2024

Celebrating 30 years of the Summer Mentorship Program at U of T

Students, Education, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Giving, Partnerships, Inclusion & Diversity
Summer Mentorship Program students look through a microscope.
Summer Mentorship Program students look through a microscope.
By Erin Howe

As he reflects on the 30th anniversary of the University of Toronto’s Summer Mentorship Program (SMP), Husam Abdel-Qadir (MD ’07, PGME ’13 & ’17 Cardiology, PhD ’18) says he doubts he would have become a doctor without it.  

“Being part of SMP was one of the most instrumental experiences of my life,” says Abdel-Qadir, an assistant professor of medicine in U of T’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine and cardiologist at Women’s College Hospital and University Health Network

“Less than two years earlier, I’d moved to Canada from the Middle East where I saw successful Black people in a variety of professional areas. Without realizing it, I’d begun to internalize the fact that here, I didn’t see people who looked like me in many professional roles,” Abdel-Qadir says. 

“I had serious doubts about what I would be able to do as a Black man in Canada.”  

As part of the 1998 SMP cohort, Abdel-Qadir met other Black high school students considering education and careers in the life sciences and health care. He says the program also introduced him to a network of people he could lean on for support as he completed his studies and training.  

The program was established in 1994 by the Faculty of Medicine (as it was then called), the Toronto District School Board and the Association for the Advancement of Blacks in the Health Sciences.  The goal was to help address concerns about under-representation of Black and Indigenous people in the field. 

Two students participate in a Summer Mentorship Program dentistry session.
Two students participate in a Summer Mentorship Program dentistry session.

For four weeks every July, students learn about medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, kinesiology, public health, social work and medical radiation science through hands-on activities, shadowing and guest speakers. They also complete assignments.  

Sonia Igboanugo (MD ’24) recalls the research project she completed in the program 13 years ago and how it helped lay a foundation for her further studies. 

“As a tenth-grade student, I’d never done anything quite like it before. We did research and presented abstracts. We learned how to do literature searches through PubMed and other academic websites. Those skills are so important in university, graduate and medical school,” says Igboanugo, who graduated from Temerty Medicine’s MD Program this spring and will begin a general surgery residency at McMaster University in July. 

After completing the program, participants can earn a science credit toward their high school diploma.  Students also receive a $1,600 stipend and other supports such as public transit fares, which help make the program more accessible to learners with financial barriers. 

In addition to developing valuable skills, participants build networks during their time in the program. Soliana Lijiam, a third-year U of T life sciences student who took part in SMP in 2021 says the meaningful connections she formed have also been empowering.  

“The relationships I built through SMP have opened the doors for other opportunities,” says Lijiam. “While I was in that program, I learned about others — like one called StAR, a six-week paid research internship at SickKids that I got to do in 2022. That led to a research project for which I’m now a co-principal investigator.” 

Summer Mentorship Program participants take part in a simulation exercise.
Summer Mentorship Program participants take part in a simulation exercise.

Since its inception, nearly 1,500 students have taken part in the program. Most program alumni continue their studies at college or university. The program and others like it help ensure people from all walks of life can realize their potential, says Abdel-Qadir. 

“If it wasn’t for SMP, I wouldn't have gotten into medical school — not because of my ability but because people don’t pursue goals they don’t think are possible," he says.  

Abdel-Qadir was awarded a Cody Silver Medal upon his graduation from U of T’s MD Program in 2007. He was later recognized with the 2017 European Society of Cardiology Young Investigator Award for clinical sciences and the 2018 Polanyi prize in medicine/physiology. 

“There are so many people in underrepresented groups who have tremendous potential. Without equitable opportunities, it can be very difficult for them to achieve what they’re capable of.” 

Supporting the Summer Mentorship Program 
In connection with this milestone anniversary, we invite friends of the SMP to donate to the Summer Mentorship Program fund. Please consider giving to help support our mission.