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Inaugural Group of Students Receive ColoradoSPH Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Scholarships

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Written by Tyler Smith on May 25, 2021

The more than year-long COVID-19 pandemic brought racism and social and economic disparities into the spotlight in the United States, highlighting the long-overdue work that needs to be done to build a more equitable, diverse and inclusive society. With a first-ever scholarship fund created last fall, the Colorado School of Public Health took a step toward making that goal a reality.

The ColoradoSPH Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Scholarship Fund launched in the wake of powerful mass protests and demonstrations aimed at addressing social inequities, including the lack of access to healthcare and resources in many communities, particularly those that are predominantly Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC). The fund aimed to address these and other inequities by providing financial support for underrepresented students pursuing a graduate degree at ColoradoSPH.

In the words of the scholarship application, underrepresented groups include students who are “African American/Black, Hispanic/Latinx, American Indian/Alaska Native, LGBTQ+, first generation college students, person with disabilities, and others who have overcome obstacles in their lives, particularly in the pursuit of education.”

A successful internal fundraising campaign

Faculty, staff, and friends of ColoradoSPH raised $27,000 for the scholarships, said Dr. Danielle Brittain, ColoradoSPH’s Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs and professor of community and behavioral health. Nearly two dozen students applied for the inaugural awards; six were selected (see bios below).

The internal campaign began after Dr. Dawn Comstock, a professor of epidemiology, now executive director for Jefferson County Public Health, personally donated $1,000 to the fund and urged her fellow faculty members to do the same.

“I know many of us have marched, protested, communicated our concerns to legislative representatives, utilized our expertise and national standing as public health researchers to help drive much needed discussions around effective change, but these efforts too often drive needed change slowly,” Comstock said at the time.

Her fundraising call went to department chairs and representatives across the three ColoradoSPH campuses. Many answered, sending an important message to students and the wider community, Brittain noted.

“Fundraising for this scholarship is one important example of how our school is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion,” she said.

“I am pleased that so many gave to this important new fund,” added ColoradoSPH Dean Dr. Jon Samet. “It shows that we are serious about achieving racial and ethnic diversity in our students and faculty, and in our curriculum so that students leave with an understanding of the deep roots of the social determinants of health.”

Students explained their commitment to diversity

Students who applied for the scholarships provided a trio of essays that described how their backgrounds bring diversity to ColoradoSPH and the public health workforce; their commitment to diversity and inclusion; and their career goals for fostering diversity and inclusion in public health. A Scholarship Committee met to determine the recipients.

There was no predetermined number of awardees; the goal was simply to give opportunities to students from underserved populations, Brittain added.

“We know that many individuals from underrepresented populations disproportionately encounter a multitude of barriers to obtaining a graduate education. One of those barriers is financial resources,” she said.

The school aims to launch a new fundraising campaign in August. Depending on its progress, calls for scholarship applications could begin early in the fall semester, Brittain said.

Whatever the timing, the drive to increase diversity and inclusiveness will continue for ColoradoSPH. It can be no other way, Brittain concluded.

“Equity and social justice are in the bone marrow of public health,” she said. “We’re responsible for providing our students an educational environment that values and promotes equity, diversity, and inclusion. Through engagement and learning in this environment our students will be better equipped to innovatively address public health challenges.”

The awardees

The inaugural group of students chosen to receive Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Scholarships are:

  • Adetilewa Awosanya, a first-year student in the Maternal & Child Health program, born in Rhode Island ad raised in Sagamu, Nigeria. “I aspire to be the change I would like to see in my community, and would be a strong and relentless advocate for maternal and child healthcare for both women and children of color.”
  • Gilbert Fru, a dual-degree first-year MPH and second-year dental student from Houston, Texas. Gilbert intends to start a dental non-profit organization by 2025 that “will focus on narrowing the gap in access to care, by providing dental services to communities facing health disparities like the one I grew up in, as well as training and mentoring young students to take on careers in dentistry and public health.”
  • June Homdayjanakul, a second-year PhD student in Community and Behavioral Health from Aurora, who is a first-generation student and member of the local Thai community. June focuses on emerging infectious disease control and prevention in the context of health equity and implementation science. “I plan to use this scholarship to further equity in the field of global health and locally by advocating for anti-racism practices at the school and campus.”
  • Kristina Turner, originally from Villa Park, Illinois, a first-year student in the Maternal & Child Health program, with a concentration in Global Health. “I am passionate about the infant mortality rates here in the United States for African American women and addressing health disparities.”
  • Madison Winsand, a third-semester MPH student in the Maternal & Child Health program, whose long-term goal is to open a free clinic for women and children. “Being a queer, disabled woman has taught me endless lessons about gratitude, strength, and resiliency. A lifetime of being disregarded and invalidated has taught me first-hand why advocacy is pivotal, and helped me to connect on a deeper level to my work.”
  • Dennis Wright, a second-year Epidemiology student from Boston whose career goal “is to engage the public as a social epidemiologist and/or teach social epidemiology in university.” He adds that he is “grateful to the scholarship committee and donors, and I am aligned in their undertaking to actively engage the student body in the name of academic equity.”