By Pratibha Bansal
There are people who have deeply influenced me, unbeknownst to them, at critical points in my life. Robert Wilmers, whom I knew for 25 years, was one of them.
I am a pain specialist in the Kensington-Eggert area. Over the years, my patients told stories about the innovative education at the Westminster Community Charter School for grades K-8. I decided to explore how I could enrich the lives of its students, as a physician and a longtime resident. The school administration was very receptive to my ideas.
Together with Dr. Bahayana (who did the first cardiac transplant in Buffalo), we visited the biology class. We dissected hearts with the students and simultaneously discussed how to keep our hearts healthy. I took the students on a field trip to Airsep, a local biomedical manufacturing company, where the students learned about different types of engineering.
One evening, after my involvement with Westminster began, I told Mr. Wilmers about these activities. I did not know about his own involvement with the school. He hooked me up with Mr. Chamberlain from M&T Bank. After many meetings, we succeeded in connecting the school with the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Science is Elementary program began. The SEAS dean, Dr. Liesl Folks, notes that “One of the great delights of this program at WCCS is that it brings as much joy to the UB volunteers, who are excited to share their love of science and engineering, as to the WCCS students, who squeal with excitement as the wonders of science are revealed through the hands-on experiments.”
Recently I have designed a program for mentoring high school students at the Health Sciences Charter School. We started a “Young Doctors Club” for students interested in careers in health sciences. This program includes field trips to local, renowned institutions, such as the Gates Vascular Institute, a neonatal intensive care unit, an organ transplant center, the Biometric Center at the University at Buffalo, and the robotic surgery facility at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Club members have also enjoyed lectures and dissections at their high school.
This enrichment has been led by many friends and volunteers from the Asian American Physicians Association. For the association’s annual dinner-dance, we invited two club members, Charvaye and Rachel, to attend the event at the beautiful Statler Hotel. The students danced bhangra, a popular Indian dance, with Mayor Byron W. Brown that evening, and watched as we raised significant funds to start a Science Olympiad program at their school. We subsequently started a Science Olympiad team, a Math Club and a tutoring and mentoring program. The AAPA group, to which I belong, has been instrumental in supporting these efforts.
Many of the students at the Health Sciences Charter School had come from the Westminster Community Charter School. It has been a pleasure to watch them grow and graduate, with plans to become a pediatrician, a gynecologist, a psychologist, a physician assistant, a biomedical engineer and more. I work under the premise that the more I expose them to new experiences, sights and ideas, ignites curiosity influencing them in ways beyond my imagination.
This was surely Mr. Wilmer’s motivation, also. He, thus, left a legacy that has inspired not only the children of Buffalo, but also the adults who continue to work with them.
Melique, who graduated from the Health Sciences Charter School last June, just finished his first semester at SUNY Buffalo State. His recent text message read, “Hey Dr. Bansal, my GPA is a 3.7. Thank you! I'll keep up the good work.” Mr. Wilmers must be smiling.
Dr. Pratibha Bansal is grateful for the help Robert Wilmers provided to students.