Shawntea Mahdi makes the most of her City High experience… and has a $124,000 scholarship to show for it.

Talk about motivation!

Shawntea Madhi is living proof that it pays off. For this City High student all the stars aligned. Her grades. Her volunteering and extra curricular activities. Her amazing internship at UPMC. Her science project. The list goes on.

As she’s about to graduate, Shawntea has gotten into all the colleges she’s applied to – from IUP, Cal U and Slippery Rock to St. Vincent and Allegheny. What’s more, she’s been awarded an amazing $124,000 scholarship at prestigious Allegheny College, based on her academic strengths plus all the things above that prove what a well-rounded student she really is. As Shawntea says, “My mom was excited. She cried. She was very proud. And I brought the letter into school and my teachers were very proud, too.”

She has every reason to be pleased with her progress. She’s earned a 3.6 GPA, has taken mostly honor classes whenever they were available to her and she’s even qualified for the Pittsburgh Promise Scholarship. By the way, she is also the first City High student to act as a Pittsburgh Promise Student Ambassador. In this role, she hosts events and goes on college tours to help prepare fellow classmates who might be eligible for these scholarships.

And when she’s not doing all this, she still finds time to work at McDonald’s, help out at her mother’s small business and volunteer at the Humane Animal Rescue-Northshore Site. It was her work at mom’s in-home childcare center (and her interest in science) that led Shawntea to choose UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital  for her senior internship. “I’ve always been interested in children,” she says. “And in helping out my mom who runs her own in-home daycare. Even as a little kid, I was helping her out. Once I was old enough to learn how to take care of children, how you have to be there for them, I realized that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Coming here, I realized how into science I was. I had a liking towards children as well as science. And that led me toward the medical field.”

At UPMC Magee, she got great exposure to the world of medical care during 137 hours over 13 weeks. She rotated between three different departments, giving her a wide range of experiences from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to Ultrasound to Mother/Baby care. “The internship was an eye opener,” Shawntea recalls. “I wanted to see what that was like, what the pace was like, how people worked together. I definitely saw the teamwork required. Teamwork is one big thing. You have to be able to work as a team.”

Shawntea added, “I learned that it’s important to communicate with people. There are situations you will encounter that will be hard and challenging, but it’s about how you overcome it, because there’s not always going to be someone over your shoulder or there to hold your hand. Sometimes, you’re going to have make your own decision. Sometimes you just have to think through it yourself and be willing to take risks on your own and see what the outcome will be. And if it’s not what you expected, to change or fix it, if possible. That was definitely a big take away for me.”

According to Sarah Stewart, Volunteer Coordinator for UPMC Magee, “Shawntea was one of my most goal-oriented interns. She was always here, always on time, always ready to go, willing to work.  She didn’t just sit back and wait for people to tell her what to do, she kind of went after it.  She was so great with her colleagues that they still ask about her all the time.” That’s a great thing.

Her mentors Ericka Hardy and Cynda Robbins in Imaging brought her flowers and a balloon on her recent visit. They also had high praise for Shawntea’s work ethic and team approach. “She always came in happy, motivated and ready to work.” 

“The internship was an eye opener for me. My mentor was always open to questions. If I had a problem she made sure to solve it right then and there. She made sure that they were teaching me. Not just showing me, but actually teaching me: Showing me what they were doing on a day-to-day basis, what their roles were. Instead of them just telling me, they actually incorporated me into the process. ‘This is what we do… you can try it… you can do it,’ they would say. They made sure I was always doing something hands on, not just watching people do it. They wanted me to learn for myself.”

Her mentors Ericka Hardy and Cynda Robbins in Imaging echo this sentiment, “She was very nice, outspoken and very respectful. She was one of the volunteers who came out to the front desk and helped one-on-one with our patients. She pulled their charts, gave them pagers and kept our department moving. She always came in happy, motivated and ready to work. We didn’t have to tell her over and over again. She was always on the move. We were very short on support staff and she was an asset. She was one of us.”

Ms. Stewart explains the hospital’s approach to interns and volunteers. “I just want them to get as much exposure and to learn as much as possible. Most of them come to a hospital because they’re interested in a career in medicine. I want them to see what it is, as best they can. As opposed to… You come in and see it and you know that it’s notfor you… you might learn that… and be like, ‘Oh, I’m too squeamish I can’t handle that’. Or maybe. ‘Oh my, that was so interesting. That’s perfect!’ So it’s important to get the exposure. You never know.”

From Shawntea’s perspective, “This experience opened my eyes a lot more about the medical field… but it also pulled me in more. So I do want to continue on this path and end up in the medical field eventually. I want to start off in college by studying biology.”

Her science project is in that vein. Her premise? How energy drinks affect heart rate and behavior. Since human testing is not permitted, she is performing tests using Daphnia magna (a freshwater crustacean) and collecting data to quantify this accepted hypothesis.

Shawntea Mahdi and Ms. Sarah Stewart

About UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital

For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has been caring for women through all stages of their lives. It has become one of the nation’s top hospitals specializing in women. Yet, as a full-service facility, Magee offers services for both men and women including cardiology, geriatrics, urology, bone and joint, bariatric surgery and spine, in addition to traditional gynecologic and obstetric services.

UPMC Magee has partnered with City Charter High School since 2008, offering real-world exposure to students considering a career in healthcare. Unlike the traditional volunteer at UPMC, City High students undergo a rigorous 13-week program, requiring daily attendance and a rotation through various departments.

Magee’s volunteer coordinator, Sarah Stewart draws the distinction, “We basically work the program for City High as we would any other college student who’s interested in coming in. Even though the intern comes in every day.”

City High senior Shawntea Mahdi, who recently completed a 137-hour internship at UPMC Magee, met with Ms. Stewart first to help determine what her interests were. “I wanted to find out if she wanted to be a nurse, a PA… what she was interested in….” Ms. Stewart says. “Most people come here because they want the mother/baby intern experience. That was a big thing for Shawntea.” But Ms. Stewart wants the experience to be broader than just that. “We work with them and try to find departments they’re interested in. Then I usually try to pick an array, so they get some experience in a bit of everything… instead of just one thing,” she reveals.

Shawntea spent time in mother/baby care, ICU and ultrasound. And in each department, she learned about the variety of day-to-day tasks: mother/baby (making the rounds on patient floors – checking on patients, getting them ice water, blankets, etc.); ICU (rounding up patients, stocking cabinets and rooms with supplies, warming with the blankets); Ultrasound (you’re a hostess so you help taking patients back, taking records back, some clerical work).

The entire internship was a win-win – for the City High student and for the Hospital.

According to Ms. Stewart, “Shawntea was one of my most goal-oriented interns. She was so great with her colleagues that they still ask about her all the time.”

Thanks to the staff at UPMC Magee, Shawntea’s learned a lot. As she puts it, “This experience opened my eyes a lot more about the medical field… but it also pulled me in more. So I do want to continue onto this path and end up in the medical field eventually.” She adds, “I wanted to see what it was like, what the pace was like, how people worked together. I definitely saw the teamwork required. Teamwork is one big thing. You have to be able to work as a team.”

According to one of her City High Internship Managers, Patti Kretschman, the internship has other advantages beyond personal development and learning about the job requirements. “This is a great opportunity for students to network with career professionals in the field. And so many of them take an interest in our students that they naturally end up becoming secondary career mentors, connecting them with other people in the community. They’re also giving them a deeper dive into what school and work is going to look like past high school… giving them some solid, in-depth career information and guidance.” Ms. Kretschman adds, “Our students also get exposed to the atmosphere, picking up the vocabulary, learning about the flow of how things go. They see how different departments interact with each other. All very good initial workplace experiences.”