August 11, 2017 | An informal thank-you luncheon held Aug. 2 for UAMS Center for Diversity Affairs students and donors had a sweet ending, thanks to a surprise presentation of $24,000 from Bank of America.
Although the event had been planned weeks in advance, the gift was not announced until the day before. Bank of America has given similar gifts for the past six years in support of the center’s summer enrichment programs, which benefit students throughout Arkansas.
The gift pushes the corporation’s support of the center to $128,500 over the past six years, and more than half a million to UAMS as a whole.
“We really appreciate the support from Bank of America over these past six years,” said Billy Thomas, M.D., vice chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion. “Without their support, we wouldn’t be able to run as many programs as we do. It’s been our good fortune to have them as a partner.”
After all the plates had been cleared, Bank of America representatives Donnie Cook, Arkansas state president and Little Rock market president, and Heather Albright, senior relationship manager, presented an oversized check to Thomas and assembled students and staff.
“We look at all this as an investment for each and every one of you,” Cook said. “It’s been a privilege to invest in you. We are confident that we will get a return back tenfold.”
Cook said that leaving school early to go into banking worked out for him, but that his case was more an exception than the rule. He encouraged the students to learn as much as they could. “My hope for you is that you will achieve something that I have not,” he said.
Students around the table took turns explaining what drew them to their particular program, and what they learned from it. Each had a common theme: excitement and optimism for the future.
Sara Yasef, a junior at Hendrix College, participated in the summer research program, with an emphasis on pharmacy and pharmacology. “I liked getting experience from all the professionals,” she said. “Research made me want to switch from doing [physician assistant] school to going to medical school.”
“For me, it was pretty free-range,” said Mariah Adams, a freshman at the University of Memphis. “It gave me a chance to figure out what I really did and didn’t like. I got to participate in the lab, with people who already know how to do this, and I was like, ‘Wow, we’re really in here doing this!’”
“I’ve been in this program for three years, and this year was the best year,” said Taylor Lockhart, a senior at Ouachita Baptist College. “I want to be a marine biologist and I wasn’t sure how that would intermingle with the medical field, but they had us do research, and I found out that a lot of marine science actually goes into studying about things like drugs, cancer and liver failure. It’s a really great program.”
“The program was a real eye-opener,” said Devan Mishra, a 10th grader at eStem High School in Little Rock. “Without this program, I wouldn’t have learned what I know now about medicine.”
C’Asia James, an M1 student at UAMS, fell just short of qualifying for medical school on her first attempt at the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), but she kept studying using the center’s six-week pre-medical summer scholars program. “The program helped me raise my score by seven points, and I got in the second time,” she said.
The center’s summer enrichment programs are designed to strengthen science, math, literacy and test-taking skills. In addition, the programs give students an introduction to the many health career options at UAMS and include mentored research, bridge programs for non-traditional students, ACT and MCAT preparation, a Pacific Islander health science conference, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs for young children. In 2018, the center will add a program for Marshallese high school students in northwest Arkansas.
Thanks to the generous support of corporations like Bank of America, the center has been able to double its enrollment, Thomas said. This summer, more than 230 students have been exposed to health careers in the UAMS colleges of Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Public Health and the Graduate School.
The center’s summer outreach programs primarily reach Arkansas students, but roughly 30 to 40 percent of students in certain programs come from other states, Thomas said. “It says something about the need for what we do that students come from other states, just to be here and participate,” he said.
Participating students find a home in these programs, Thomas said, which makes it much more likely that they will attend UAMS for medical school.
“These are all excellent students,” Thomas said. “We hope to retain them and help guide their development through college and medical school.”
He encouraged the students to take a broad perspective and focus on collaboration. “We are very satisfied that you all are going to do well,” he said.
The center continues to reach more students from underserved populations each year.
“The educational system that we have in place, private or public, really doesn’t do as well as it should for certain populations, and that’s why we’re here,” Thomas said.