Stead Scholars Embrace Opportunity to Experience Different Aspects of Public Health

By Kev' Moye

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health in collaboration with the Arkansas Department of Health led nine interns through the rigorous program.

This year’s participants were Alisha Al-Rizzo, Madisyn Doddridge, Anna Eichenberger, Katie Gray, Karlie Hite, Guerneka Joseph, Jack Nolen, Alexis Rowland, and Reagan Taylor.

Named after William Stead, M.D., a former longtime employee at the state health department, the eight-week, paid internship was established in 2012. Under the guidance of an assigned mentor, each scholar receives a special assignment. During the program’s closing ceremony, the interns present a few highlights from their assignment.

Mark Williams, Ph.D., dean of the college, commended the students for their work and maturity.

“The presentations were well prepared,” he said.  “The science was excellent. The enthusiasm shown for their projects was infectious. Each scholar showed a high degree of competency. I’m proud of them.”

Hite, a student at Harding University majoring in biochemistry & molecular biology, had a project in which she studied zoo animals and how they’re impacted by public health issues.

“I created a 12-month program in which each month highlighted a specific area for zoo animals,” she said. “We wanted to incorporate public health and animals and bring awareness to how animals also have to deal with public health issues just as human beings do.”

Along with the project, the lectures and dialogues played a big role in helping Hite understand the depth of public health.

“I learned the importance of looking at an issue through a public health perspective and finding how it relates to public health.

“Being a Stead Scholar was a unique experience. Having the perspective of public health heading into the medical field, or any science-related career, is a great perspective to have. Participating in this program helped me develop that outlook.”

Gray attends Hendrix College where she majors in health science and Spanish. Her assignment addressed the importance of breastfeeding and eliminating feeding barriers in the workplace.

“Breast milk has so many nutritional compounds and factors that formula doesn’t,” she said. “The nutrition compounds can help keep an infant from later developing certain diseases like a form of cancer or an ailment such as obesity or asthma.”

“With my project, I mainly researched how employers could benefit from having a breastfeeding friendly workplace,” Gray said. “I learned how it could reduce absenteeism rates and employee turnover. It can also potentially reduce health care costs.”

Gray went from being unfamiliar with public health, to now having career goals which may include public health responsibilities.

“This internship opened my eyes to different careers outside of medicine,” Gray said. “I’m now aware of the possibilities in medicine and public health. I better understand my desires for the future.”

Eichenberger attends Hendrix College where she majors in mathematics and health science. Her project aimed to gather information about small farmers’ perceptions about health and climate change risk. Eichenberger said it was empowering to work on an assignment that would benefit the state’s agriculture industry.

“I became very passionate about my research project by the end of the summer,” she said. “I’m grateful to have been a part of this important work. I also loved being able to learn so many different things from all the meetings that we attended as Stead Scholars. Most importantly, I loved getting to know all of the amazing people that I had the pleasure of working with throughout the summer, especially my fellow Stead Scholars.

“After completing the program, I’m now considering pursuing a master’s in public health while attending medical school.”

Nolen is a student at Hendrix College, where he majors in health science. Nolen’s project focused on the quality of Central Arkansas surface waters.

“I learned a lot about analytical chemistry and the process of scientific research,” he said. “Researchers can use much of the baseline data I gathered. Getting this data is helpful for policy makers in Arkansas to make informed decisions regarding surface waters.”

Stead Scholar

Dr. Gunnar Boysen, associate professor in the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health, observes while Jack Nolen, a Stead Scholars intern, conducts research.

The opportunity to conduct science-heavy research and learn about public health made for an ideal experience, Nolen said. He also credited the program with helping him reach a new level of confidence.

“Being a Stead Scholar helped me grow as a student and person,” he said. “It pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me a bigger skillset than what I came in with.”

Joseph is a student at Philander Smith University majoring in biology. Through her project, “Methylation Signatures in PTEN Among Lung Cancer Patients,” Joseph learned how certain behaviors can result in people getting cancer. The goal of the assignment aligned with her desire to serve the general public.

“The assignment I received was important as Arkansas ranks low nationally concerning cancer survival rates,” she said. “The main purpose of the research was to find ways to increase the survival rates.”

Joseph appreciated the meetings, discussions and grand rounds of the Stead Scholar experience. The research and working in different labs have piqued her interest in a public health education.

Stead Scholar

Dr. Mohammed Orloff, associate professor in the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health, observes Stead Scholar intern Guerneka Jospeh, as she conducts an examination. Heather Robeson also closely watches Joseph.

“I enjoyed working with my mentor and the lab work we did because it was science based,” she said. “I didn’t know much about public health coming into the program. But I’m now interested in pursuing a master’s in public health. I realize that public health is just as important medical health.”

Doddridge, a health-science/public health major at the University of the Ozarks, had an assignment that examined tick surveillance gaps in underrepresented regions of Arkansas.

Doddridge learned that’s it common for diseases to come from animals as they can transfer them to humans. Overall, Doddridge had complimentary words about her Stead Scholar experience.

“At first I didn’t know what I was getting myself into with the internship,” she admitted. “But I had fun. We were in the field a lot. I learned plenty from my mentor and the other public health officials I met.”

Doddridge gained more clarity on what she wants to do in the future, thanks to the internship.

“I now realize how public health protects and helps the general public,” she said. “I want to help people. I want to do that behind the scenes, possibly through a public health career.”

Rowland is a student at Southern Arkansas University majoring in public health. Her project used social media analytics, and other forms of data, to gauge the effectiveness of state health department campaigns. She also presented marketing suggestions for the campaigns.

“I want a career in public health that involves mass communications, and that’s what I did during the Stead Scholars program,” Rowland said. “There was a lot of learning involved. We attended a lot of classes. There were a lot of educational opportunities available throughout this internship.”

She noted how using traditional media, social media and marketing to maximize the reach of public health information can save and transform lives.

“Having a good marketing campaign and being able to study the analytics of a campaign is important because we’re aiming to solve public health issues,” Rowland said. “It’s a matter of how we fix a person’s unhealthy behavior and turn it into healthy behavior.

“I enjoyed studying numbers and thinking of how to help entire populations. I’d recommend doing the Stead Scholars program to anybody. It’s a great way to get an inside glimpse of what public health is.”

Like Rowland, Nolen referenced how the Stead Scholars program is a great way to get in-depth knowledge of the impact of public health.

“I’ve made a lot of connections that will help me moving forward.” Nolen said. “After this internship and learning about public health, a purpose in my life is to help other people. A good way to help entire populations of people is by doing solution-based research. This internship was great.”

In addition to promoting the value of public health, the program required the interns to pay attention to detail and use deductive reasoning.

“Each Stead Scholar receives the opportunity to gain scholarly and practical experience in public health at a graduate school level,” Williams said. “Not only can they now cite receiving a prestigious academic internship, they learned skills that can be directly applied to post-graduate education or employment.”