A new fellowship program will pair about two dozen low-income ninth graders in Philadelphia with professional mentors this fall to prepare them for careers in health care and science.

The Karabots Junior Fellows Program will offer traditional mentoring from physician experts over three years as well as field trips, extra classes, college prep, internships, video seminars, and online networking. It is funded with an initial $800,000 grant from the Karabots Foundation in Fort Washington.

"You can't fulfill a dream unless you have the dream," said George M. Wohlreich, chief executive officer of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, a professional society that is hosting the fellowship and providing mentors. "Our goal is to help them create a dream and show them how to fulfill it."

As the need for health care rises, the demand for qualified candidates is growing, too. But many low-income minority youth lack academic and familial support to keep up with their better-off peers.

Minorities comprise 25 percent of America's population, but only 10 percent of all health professionals, from medical school faculty to public health and health-care executives, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Karabots fellowship sounds "fabulous," said Jeremiah J. White Jr., board chair of iPraxis, a nonprofit that connects college students with middle schoolers of color.

"Day after day, you build kids' confidence, you build a coalition of people to build growth in the child, motivate them to pursue what they want to do," he said. "At the end of the day, they believe it. And that's what it's all about."

The Karabots fellowship will draw from four city schools - three public and one parochial - where the faculty have nominated 26 student candidates.

The point, said Wohlreich, is to identify needy ninth graders who display good grades, a strong interest in health sciences, and a willingness to learn. The final interview process begins next week.

Matching the right mentors with students is key to their success, said Jacqueline Bowman, the program's director.

"Mentors have to be very committed," she said. "The College of Physicians is a huge resource of people with incredible knowledge and experience."