Stead Scholars Program Gives Undergraduate Students an Opportunity to Intern with Public Health Professionals

By Kev' Moye

Meanwhile, the scholars’ family members, along with public health professionals from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ (UAMS) Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health and the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) observed, recorded the moment with their cell phones and beamed with pride knowing that they’ve had a role in developing future public health experts.

Raven Beck, Alexandria Cade, Khariana Hobbs, JaKory Thomas and Benjamin Trussell earned the honor of being this year’s Stead Scholars. The program is an eight-week paid internship that allows a select group of college undergraduate students to get hands-on experience in the field of public health.

“The program has become very popular,” said Joe Bates, M.D., M.S., the college’s associate dean for public health practice. “It serves as a full introduction to public health for the interns. Many college students have an interest in a health-related career. Studying public health is just what they’re looking for. Over the years, numerous Stead Scholars have become great grad students for us.”

Dr. Bates speaks

Dr. Joe Bates speaks with Khariana Hobbs, and her family, following the 2022 Stead Scholars Closing Ceremony.

Hobbs, an alumna of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, said her Stead Scholar experience was amazing, like a cheat sheet into a future public health career.

“The program gave me confidence. I now know that I can work in the field of public health,” Hobbs said. “The program gave me more than I could’ve imagined. In some internships, it’s like you’re doing grunt work. But being a Stead Scholar — I was doing legit work, research, writing a portion of an introduction to a manuscript. It made me feel like an equal — not just an intern.”

As Stead Scholars, Hobbs and her cohorts worked under the tutelage of public health professionals. Each student was assigned to a specific realm of public health while also learning about other aspects of the field. That type of education will prove invaluable for the students, said Kevin Ryan, J.D., the college’s associate dean of student and alumni affairs.

“The Stead Scholars program is an outstanding platform that exposes high performing undergraduate students to public health,” he said. “It’s always a joy to interact with the students as they’re often eager to learn and work.”

Created in 2012, the Stead Scholars program is named after William Stead, MD., a former longtime employee of ADH. A group of public health professionals from the college and ADH select students for the internship. Each scholar must complete an in-depth presentation about their assignment during the Stead Scholars closing ceremony.

This year’s students were the first Stead Scholars since 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The chaos and global cancellations caused by COVID-19 impacted and motivated people in various ways, including Trussell.

A Little Rock native who attends the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, Trussell wants to be an epidemiologist who also specializes in working with the general public, keeping them safe from viruses such as COVID-19. He said the opportunity to learn more about epidemiology and societal trends made being a Stead Scholar a lot of fun.

“The program gives a great look into what the Arkansas Department of Health does and how great of a public health college UAMS has and how it impacts the state,” Trussell said. “By being a Stead Scholar, a person can learn a lot about society, even if they’re not a public health major.

“I have a passion to make the world a better place. I’ve realized that public health is an ideal way for me to do what I truly want to do in the world.”

Beck — an alumna of the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville — has a bachelor’s in public health. The Stead Scholars program gave the Siloam Springs native the real-world public health opportunity she hoped for.

“I gained skills that I didn’t imagine I’d receive coming into the program,” she said. “I learned the importance of communication, how to conduct qualitative interviews, how to collect and analyze qualitative data, and how to give a professional presentation. I learned about how different population groups face health disparities far greater than other groups. That motivates me to be a part of establishing positive change for those that face health care disparities.”

Thomas, who attends Philander Smith College, first took an interest in public health after he did a school project on Black maternal mortality. The assignment hit close to home as Thomas lost a loved one, and her unborn child, both of whom passed away during the pregnancy. Thomas — a native of Warren — kept that situation in mind while learning about public health and different research methods.

“I enjoyed sitting in on the meetings of the professionals and seeing how they make decisions,” he said. “I enjoyed working in the public health laboratory at ADH. I was like a kid in a candy store. I realized that public health affects us in every way you can imagine. Public health is everywhere.”

Alexandria Cade

Alexandria Cade smiles while standing with two of her family members, after the 2022 Stead Scholars Closing Ceremony.

Cade, a Little Rock native who attends Hendrix College, appreciates any opportunity to receive new information. For that reason, she highly recommends the Stead Scholars program for anyone who is interested in a public health career.

“This program is a true introduction to working in public health,” she said. “My assigned project, the early programming of the microbiome, was technical. But I got the chance to learn a new coding language. That was a lot of fun because I like learning.

“Throughout the program, learning was something I did a lot of. The mentors make sure that you understand what public health is.”

Much to the delight of the program overseers, Cade and her classmates shined bright. The group made the return of the Stead Scholars rewarding for everyone involved.

“Most of the Scholars are in the process of completing their respective undergraduate degrees, yet their final presentations were superb,” Ryan said. “If you didn’t know any better, based on their presentations, you would’ve thought they’re one of our graduating Master of Public Health students. I attribute that to the intelligence of the scholars, as well as their mentors’ guidance.”