For the second year, the UAMS Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DDEI) held its summer outreach programs virtually, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, this year held renewed promise, thanks to continued strong attendance and two new programs.
The popular programs are designed to cultivate an interest in health sciences among students from kindergarten to undergraduate levels, particularly among underrepresented and underserved groups. Programs include the DDEI STEM Academy, the Academy of Pre-Health Scholars and the Pre-Medical Summer Program. This year, two new programs were added: the Student-Athlete STEM Academy and the Pre-Health Scholars Program.
“The Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion remains committed to making STEM education and health care careers accessible and attainable to students throughout Arkansas, especially those in underserved areas. Our pivot to virtual education has actually allowed us to expand the reach of our programs into all corners of the state,” said Brian Gittens, Ed.D., DDEI vice chancellor.
DDEI engaged over 360 students across the state in this year’s programs, Gittens said.
Traditionally, groups of students would converge on the UAMS Little Rock campus during the summer months to learn about science and careers in health care, but the pandemic made virtual learning necessary. However, the programs’ impact was still just as strong for students who logged on each day to a full schedule of speakers and activities.
For more program information, visit https://ddei.uams.edu/ddei-outreach-programs.
The STEM Academy has three separate sections, each designed for different grade levels of kindergarten through eighth grade students. Each section has its own theme and hosts one week of daily online classes, with learning activities that can be done at home.
The Academy of Pre-Health Scholars, designed for high school students, matches participants with health care leaders to learn about biomedical sciences, research and public health. This five-week program uses daily online classes to introduce students to health care career pathways and helps them prepare for the ACT college entrance exam. This year, students received a pep talk from 2020 Grammy Music Educator Award winner Mickey Smith Jr.
“All the people that we got to meet, from Grammy Award winners, to doctors who have Ph.Ds and research experience, we learned many great things,” said Suriyah Gilbert, a 10th grader at Pine Bluff High School. “My peers were so inspirational; many of them were reliable, responsible and attentive. The whole time I was like, ‘I want to be like them.’”
The Pre-Medical Summer Scholars program helps undergraduate students prepare for the MCAT medical school entrance exam. This is a six-week program featuring direct instruction and workshops to teach and reinforce scientific learning and applied uses in critical thinking and writing.
This year, those programs proceeded as planned, with dozens of engaged students taking part from their homes from across the state. The two new programs, the Student-Athlete STEM Academy and the Pre-Health Scholars Program, brought more students into the mix.
The Student-Athlete STEM Academy is a weeklong online learning experience for male high school student-athletes who are educationally or economically disadvantaged. Over the course of the week, students get a deep dive into the health sciences with access to industry professionals as well as professional athletes and coaches.
“Most athletes during the summer have to choose between a sport or a summer program,” said Nick Pettus, manager of diverse student recruitment. “This program allows for students who have strong interests in health care and athletics to be able to do both. It’s a springboard for student-athletes who would not ordinarily have opportunities for academic growth and development to pursue medical or STEM careers.”
In each class, held through Zoom, 20 students learned about NCAA requirements for student-athletes across school divisions and discussed how to balance sports with earning a degree. There were plenty of opportunities to ask pressing questions about their future. Students received encouragement from a variety of speakers, including former University of Arkansas men’s basketball coach Nolan Richardson, former University of Arkansas assistant football coach and Arkansas Baptist College president Fitz Hill.
“It’s important for student-athletes to know about their bodies and about the health careers that keep athletes performing at high levels,” said Pettus. “If you develop the association and build the academic foundation, when it’s time for the student-athlete to make a decision, they will have the accurate information needed. If you see it, you can be it.”
The Pre-Health Scholars Program targets underrepresented and underserved freshmen and sophomore college students interested in health care. Its goal is to demystify health care pipeline programs, which are a critical part of DDEI’s outreach and inclusion strategies. Students learn about medical and public health innovations, collaborate with health care leaders and are exposed to the cutting-edge technology used in professional laboratories. The four-week program is currently limited to students in El Dorado, Jonesboro and Pine Bluff.
“We recognized a gap in programming during freshman and sophomore levels of college,” said Gloria Richard-Davis, M.D., DDEI executive director. “The Pre-Health Scholars Program was created to fill that gap to increase awareness and reduce attrition by keeping students engaged and encouraged in their pursuit of a health care career.”
Over four weeks, 33 students interacted with a wide variety of health experts in areas including dental hygiene, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, nursing and public health, among others. Every day had a themed presentation usually revolving around one or two specialties. Students were able to ask questions and brush up on their resume-building and interviewing skills, as well as receive tips on advising and taking graduate admissions exams. Despite the pandemic, students were also able to receive some hands-on instruction at their local simulation center or school.
“Our Pre-Health Scholars Program was an excellent and productive learning experience,” said Kimberlyn Blann, outgoing director of student engagement and outreach programs. “Our desire was to lift students’ interest and commitment within health care fields and health professions.”
After evaluating this year’s program, DDEI hopes to expand to other counties using the same curriculum, said Blann.