Uno Is a Young Person’s Game, and Other Starr Hill Lessons

June 28, 2024 By Zeina Mohammed, Zeina Mohammed,

When Micah Appiah was going into seventh grade, his parents got an email inviting them to sign him up for a University of Virginia program exposing kids to career opportunities. So they did. 

Now a rising ninth grader, he spent two weeks this summer learning about business and finance. Among the lessons: “How do you save? What are needs and wants? What is passive and active income?” Last summer, he was on the computer and health sciences pathway, “programming robots to knock a ping pong ball off a cup … and making air-powered model rockets,” he recalled. 

He thinks he’s most interested in STEM, specifically robots, especially after last year’s experiment.

Starr Hill Pathways is a college- and career-readiness program run by the UVA Equity Center for students in Charlottesville City and Albemarle County public schools. Open to all students, the program prioritizes potential first-generation college students and those from low-income families.

Scholars in grades seven through nine attend two-week summer camps and remain in the program through their senior year, doing internships based on areas they’ve explored. This year, 180 learners spent two weeks across 17 career pathways, including creative arts, neuroscience, data science, STEM, robotics and architecture.

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In its third year, the program is run in collaboration with community partners like Mahogany and Friends, a Charlottesville organization that provides financial education to kids through books, music and more. Other partners include Ohana Horse Farm, the Virginia Discovery Museum and various UVA institutions, including the School of Architecture and UVA Health. 

A wraparound program, Starr Hill Pathways is built as a village offering educational, mental, emotional and social support, including transportation and meals. 


A new component offered this year was a mentorship program, according to program director Lucy Montalvo.

“If the kids don’t have the self-confidence to be successful in any career, what’s the point of learning about it? So, this year we launched Starr Time, a daily, hourlong session for reflections and enriching activities that allow our scholars to explore their well-being,” Montalvo said. “So, we’re working a lot on the social-emotional piece and making sure they’re building resilience.”

An EEG cap is demonstrated to a kid by a UVA student
Connor, a local student enrolled in UVA’s Starr Hil Pathways program, and his counselor experiment with a sensor-laden skull cap at UVA Brain Camp on Tuesday. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

Stefanie Redemann, an assistant professor at the School of Medicine, runs a lab in partnership with the Center for Membrane and Cell Physiology and Cell Physiology and the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics. She helped develop the UVA Health-collaborated track with a colleague, Dr. Kamilla Esfahani, an assistant professor of anesthesiology.

“We designed a pathway that combines what we do in the medical school, thinking it could be great way to get students into different labs and see what types of experiments people work on,” she said, “and think about, ‘What does it mean to be a scientist?’”

Real-Life Experience

Redemann’s daughter, Marika, is in the program, following the veterinary sciences and architecture pathway. 

“She’s discovered many things she likes and some things she doesn’t like, which is also important,” Redemann said. “Sometimes you think something is super cool and you try it and talk to people and decide maybe that’s not for you.”

Students looking into a microscope
Students in the health sciences and medicine pathway observe cell cultures through a microscope at UVA Health. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

One day, students on the health pathway Redemann designed attended a lab that works with cell cultures to learn how to look at cells using a microscope. They then genetically modified the cells to express colorful fluorescent proteins, which they observed under the microscope.

The next day, they went to a lab that worked with different model organisms, such as roundworms and fruit flies, to learn about what kind of science they are used for. The students also learned about jobs associated with lab research.

“Starr Hill … is a sort of support system for its students,” Redemann’s daughter, Marika, said. “As someone who never really knew what they wanted to do when they grew up, the program has really helped me narrow down my options.”

Rosie Quintanilla Folley agreed. Turning 12 in July, she has just finished sixth grade, which was “a lot of drama,” and is glad for things to do over the summer. 

She’s enjoying the performing pathway, where she’s not only explored arts from jazz to ballet, but has also made friends.

Community Building

Waiting for pickup Monday afternoon, Rosie played the card game Uno with 12-year-old Naomi Jackson, a student at another school she might not have otherwise met. 

They were both excited about the dance they were choreographing at Charlottesville Ballet, where Rosie had dance classes for two years when she was “6 or 7.”

Student assisting kid in an MRI
Students in the health sciences and medicine pathway learn how an MRI scanner works at UVA Health. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

They also were excited for an the expo that took place Friday, where all the scholars showcased their work at Sandridge Hall in the John Paul Jones Arena.

Families and community members got a glimpse at how their scholars spent the first bit of summer. More than a dozen community-serving organizations like the Women’s Initiative also attended to offer guests their resources.

Waiting to be picked up, they played Uno with rising UVA first-year student and 18-year-old camp counselor Doraine Buluma. 

Conflict Resolution

Uno, Rosie remarked, is a young person’s game. Not like spades, of course, which is for old people like camp counselor Samuel Olagbaife, whom she accused of cheating. 

Olagbaife, a 22-year-old UVA graduate, denied the accusations of both unsportsmanlike conduct and old age. He does, however, have fond memories of similar programs from his childhood in New York City, which exposed him to potential hobbies and friends.

Spades, Naomi noted before the game ended, is better than solitaire, played by those both old and lonely.

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Sydney Shuler

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