Gittens Highlights National Recognition, Geographic Expansion in Annual State of Diversity and Inclusion Address

By Karmen Robinson

More importantly, Gittens said, he saw a thirst for change amongst the employees and students and noticed the willingness to intentionally do the necessary hard work.

As Gittens delivered the third annual State of Diversity and Inclusion address, he noted the university’s national recognition over the past year as well as the institution’s ability to accomplish its mission despite the onslaught of COVID-19 that’s lasted nearly 20 months.

“In the Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DDEI), we think about how we can adapt to better serve UAMS and all Arkansans as we continue to build a more inclusive environment at our institution that boasts diversity in tomorrow’s health care work force,” said Gittens.

The event, planned by members of the DDEI Diversity and Inclusion Engagement subcommittee, also featured the presentation of the Dr. Edith Irby Jones Diversity and Inclusion Awards and awards for outstanding volunteers participating in the UAMS Serves Campaign.

UAMS was ranked seventh nationally in April on an annual list of Best Employers for Diversity by Forbes magazine, in addition to ranking in the top 30% for Best Employers for Women by the same publication in July.

“We have team members here at UAMS from 89 different countries of all races, religions and backgrounds,” said Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA. “These are things that could separate us, but instead, our differences are celebrated, and these are the things that make us who we are here at UAMS.”

For the first time, three outreach programs in the division were also recipients of the 2021 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. The largest and oldest diversity and inclusion publication in higher education, the magazine recognized the UAMS programs for their commitment in encouraging youth to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) while exposing them to different career paths in health care.

Additionally, Gittens referenced the virtual and geographic expansion of DDEI’s outreach programs to reach all corners of the state. Among the programs is the UAMS Laddered Pipeline Program, a recipient of the INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine award.

More than 360 minority and underrepresented students from kindergarten to college participated in the UAMS Laddered Pipeline Program this past summer, which encompasses all six of DDEI’s summer outreach programs, including the two newest — the Student-Athlete Summer Academy and the Pre-Health Scholars Program.

With the opportunity to learn about medical and public health interventions and innovations, “students were granted access to world class faculty, researchers and industry professionals to help reshape their aspirations and broaden their goals,” said Gittens, in addition to cutting-edge technology currently used in professional training and laboratory experiments.

“Our programs are built to ensure the next generation of health care professionals will reflect the diverse population they serve,” said Gittens.

UAMS Pathways Academy is another significant enhancement to the division that focuses on middle school and high school students who live in rural communities that have been traditionally underserved.

“We plan to break those cycles of poverty and poor health and empower young people in those communities to become nurses, doctors, pharmacists, researchers and professors in the generations to come, drawn from every nook in the natural state,” said Gittens.

While DDEI has committed to making changes in communities with health disparities through research, health promotion and disease prevention, Gittens said, the division also has worked to improve the climate on campus and to create safe spaces, both virtually and in-person, for UAMS students and employees to have conversations about social injustices and celebrate the diversity of the institution.

“We applied our online learning to build a virtual environment, where celebration, support and acceptance are available to every member of our UAMS community,” said Gittens. “We recognize that employees can bring their full selves to the workplace. We want to create a sense of belonging for all employees.”

UAMS recently revised the anti-discrimination policy to include mandatory implicit bias training for all employees. Students and employees also are serving on committees to assist with policy decisions to create more equitable hiring, offer more opportunities for mentoring and research and create a more welcoming environment that respects identity for all individuals.

The division also launched Prometheus, a virtual mentoring program to connect UAMS underrepresented students with faculty mentors across campus.

Gittens noted more than 150 volunteers serve on internal subcommittees to advance the recruitment, engagement and retention of underrepresented employees and students, inclusive of veterans, women, individuals with disabilities and members of the LGBTQI+ community.

“I do my best to create safe and inclusive spaces for everyone. Being a queer person, being in the South and being recognized for this award is big. It’s an honor,” said Lorraine Stigar, the student recipient of the Dr. Edith Irby Jones Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award who is also pursuing a doctorate in public health at UAMS.

“I started doing this work a long time ago, and it’s actually what got me into public health,” said Stigar. “I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

Stigar works with UAMS residents to host trainings for gender affirming care services.

Dr. Edith Irby Jones Award Winners

  • Student – Lorraine Stigar, MPH
  • Staff – Renisha Ward, M.Ed.
  • Early Career Faculty – Clare Brown, Ph.D., M.D.
  • Mid/Senior Career Faculty – Kalpana Padala, M.D.
  • Trainee – Michael Grassi, M.D.
  • Lifetime Achievement – Sheldon Riklon, M.D.

UAMS Serves Award Recipients

  • Mariella Hernandez, M.P.S.
  • Rose Farquhar, LSW
  • Stacy Hoyle, MHSA
  • UAMS Auxiliary