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Inaugural Class of American Heart Hispanic Serving Institutions Scholars Complete Research Program

Thirty students completed the American Heart Association (AHA)’s research program serving as the first-ever cohort of the Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) Scholars Program, which provides career mentorship, leadership development, and research stipends to promising Hispanic students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The Research Symposium was held in Houston, Texas, where scholars shared presentations on their research and received medallions in a special ceremony to mark the completion of this program.

The HSI Program invests in aspiring Hispanic researchers and healthcare professionals. During the program, undergraduate students enrolled in biomedical and health sciences at HSIs participated in academic and career-enriching experiences for a full academic year. 

“It has been an honor to guide the first class of our HSI Scholars and see them flourish through the Program where they learned about health disparities in Hispanic communities, how cultural sensitivity can provide safe and reassuring clinical spaces, and the importance of inclusivity in science,” said Mitzi Cardona, Portfolio Advisor, Collegiate Diversity Partnerships, Hispanic Serving Institutions, AHA. “We are grateful for the support of the Quest Diagnostics Foundation as it has helped us launch this vital program to support future leaders in healthcare.”

The inaugural class of the HSI Program was launched in September 2021 with the support of the Quest Diagnostics Foundation as part of our Quest for Health Equity (Q4HE) initiative. Q4HE, an over $100 million initiative of Quest Diagnostics (NYSE: DGX) and the Quest Diagnostics Foundation, provides donated testing services, education programs, partnerships, and funding to support initiatives aimed at eliminating healthcare disparities that impact underserved communities across the US.

“Research has shown that increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of healthcare providers leads to reductions in health disparities through better communications, improved trust in the medical systems, and enhanced quality of care,” said Mandell Jackson, Vice President and General Manager, Q4HE. “We are proud to support the HSI Scholars program as part of our commitment to increase diverse representation in biomedical practice and research to create a sustainable impact to the healthcare ecosystem.”

While people of Hispanic heritage are the second-fastest-growing racial/ethnic group in the country, making up more than 18% of the population in the US, less than 6% of all physicians are of Hispanic heritage. This disparity is consistent in research and healthcare professions overall.  The inaugural class of the HSI Scholars Program includes 30 students who are attending HSIs in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Texas, and Puerto Rico.

Doctor Loren Blanchard, President of the University of Houston Downtown, delivered the keynote speech at the symposium. Doctor Blanchard noted that downtown Houston is one of the nation’s most culturally diverse metropolitan areas and shared how the University has created an environment that welcomes and embraces students from all backgrounds.

“Thirty Scholars is just the beginning of the support required to bring more Hispanic scholars into our healthcare system,” added Jackson. “We invite other companies and foundations to join with the American Heart Association to fund many deserving students seeking healthcare careers.”

Click here to learn more about how Quest is teaming up with the AHA to reduce health inequities while expanding the pipeline to create a more diverse healthcare force. 

Scholar spotlights 

Valeria Rivas

Valeria is a sophomore majoring in biomedical engineering at Miami Dade College in Miami, Florida. As an AHA HSI Scholar, she has worked under the mentorship of Doctor Jyrko Correa, investigating “Biological and Mathematical Analysis of Embedding Genetic Codes in Euclidean Spaces.”

“My grandmother, who does not speak English, needed a pacemaker, and I helped to translate the medical terms that her doctors were having a difficult time trying to convey to her,” said Valeria. “I know firsthand how important Hispanic representation in healthcare is, and this experience helped inspire me during this program.” 

Jalen Crespo

Jalen is a senior majoring in biology at the City College of New York in the Bronx, New York. As an AHA HSI Scholar, Jalen has worked under the mentorship of Doctor Carlos Acevedo Suarez, investigating “COVID-19 and Pregnancy: A Literature Review.”

“This program showed me that I can make a difference for patients and gave me the opportunity to make an impact through my research,” said Jalen

Bryan Medina

Bryan is a junior majoring in biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Houston in Houston, Texas. As an AHA HSI Scholar, Bryan has worked under the mentorship of Doctor Bradley McConnell, investigating “A long-acting βarrestin ‘biased’ agonist to selectively activate AT1R to confer cardioprotection during heart failure and COVID-19 cardiovascular complications.”

“This program gave me a glimpse of my future, showed me that this is what I am meant to be doing, and opened the door to many opportunities,” said Bryan. “The greatest lesson I learned during this experience is that all it takes is one success and that no one will remember how many times you failed, they only see when you win.” 

Irvin Solano Teran

Irvin is a junior majoring in biological and physical sciences with a major in sustainability at the University of Houston Downtown in Houston, Texas. As an AHA HSI Scholar, Irvin has worked under the mentorship of Doctor Elda Rueda, regarding the “Investigation of disease-causing genes through bioinformatic tools, genome annotation of mycobacteriophage.”

“My biggest takeaway from this program is the sense of family I have with the other Scholars,” said Irvin. “We are all in this together, and I know I will always be able to rely on my peers from this program.” 

Araceli Garza

Araceli is a senior majoring in biology at the University of Houston Downtown in Houston, Texas. As an AHA HSI Scholar, Araceli worked under the mentorship of Doctor Elda Rueda, investigating “Transition Metal Ions Quantitation by Spectrophotometry and Titration.”

“One of the big things I’ve learned during this program is that I am not alone in this journey,” said Araceli. “There will always be struggles in life you need to keep striving and moving forward. It’s so rare to have people pushing for you and supporting you, and this program has it; I am so humble and grateful to be a part of it.”