Stanford Welcomes 2023 AHEaD Students
Launched in 2021, the Stanford Advancing Health Equity and Diversity (AHEaD) program was created to give college students from underrepresented or historically excluded groups in the health sciences the opportunity to study population health with Stanford faculty over the summer. While past AHEaD summer sessions were conducted virtually due to the pandemic, this year’s scholars spent seven weeks learning and researching on Stanford’s campus.
“We started AHEaD to ensure underrepresented students were given a voice and a chance to experience population health research,” said Michelle Odden, professor of Epidemiology and Population Health and one of AHEaD's founding directors. “The field of population health emphasizes health equity. Improving diversity within the field provides different perspectives that enhance research. We’ve had great success running this program virtually over the past few years, but nothing compares to bringing students to live and learn on Stanford’s campus.”
Eight scholars came from across the country to participate in didactic modules in population health, professional development, and networking activities. Housing, meals, and a stipend were provided in line with the AHEaD program’s commitment to equity and inclusion principles. Each scholar was matched with a Stanford faculty mentor to conduct a research project in population health. At the end of the program, scholars presented their findings to an audience of their peers, Stanford faculty, and past AHEaD program alumni.
Meet AHEaD Scholars
Juan Delgado, a student at Pasadena City College, heard about the AHEaD program from a friend.
“My friend from UC Davis mentioned a great opportunity that his school was promoting,” Delgado said. “At first, I was timid to apply because there had only been one community college student in the past – but I didn’t let it stop me.”
Delgado was paired with Marvin Langston, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health, to conduct chronic disease research. Langston guided Juan as he navigated his project, which explored prostate-specific antigen (PSA)-based risk-stratified screening for prostate cancer. “My project focused on tailoring prostate cancer screening based on different determinants and moving away from the mass screening paradigm,” Delgado explained.
“Coming from community college and going to one of the most prestigious schools in the United States was a little scary at first,” said Delgado. “But when I met everybody, I realized that they’re not that different from me. AHEaD leaders Lesley Park and Michelle Odden were so welcoming and approachable – the same with every other faculty member I met. Marvin, my faculty mentor, is amazing and super cool.”
Delgado's experience at Stanford has changed how he views his future. “I came in as half a nursing major and half a public health major, not entirely sure what I wanted to do," he said. "But being in AHEaD has helped solidify how I see my future. Now, I’m more focused n on public health. I would like to eventually get my master’s in public health and maybe even a doctorate.”
“Working with Juan this past summer has truly been a pleasure,” said Marvin Langston, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health. “I was so impressed that Juan was able to join my lab and become quickly orientated to his summer project. Juan communicated effectively with other trainees in the lab, including postdocs and PhD students, as well as with external collaborators.”
First Names and New Directions
Bliss Davis (they/them) is a third-year student at Columbia University studying political science with a public health concentration. Their experience at AHEaD introduced them to many different paths of public health.
“I was exposed to far more aspects of public health than before: fields of study, methods of research, career and educational opportunities, and new developments and innovations in the discipline,” Davis explained. “I developed skills in statistical programming, literature review, public speaking, and even networking - all things that will be crucial moving forward.”
Davis encourages future AHEaD scholars to have confidence in their abilities as they enter the program. “I went into the program feeling behind, but AHEaD reminded me that my path doesn’t have to be linear," they continued. "I learned about different post-undergraduate degrees like an MHA and DrPH, both of which I’m now strongly considering.”
The relatability of AHEaD leaders helped Davis feel immediately comfortable in the program. “On the first day, we were told not to refer to our professors by their titles,” they said. “I was caught off guard; I’d never been in an academic environment where those with higher standing acted as equals.”
Feeling Valued, Making Connections
Sarah Lucero is from the Bay Area but wasn’t sure what to expect from the AHEaD program. “I recently graduated from Cal State East Bay and received a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences with a concentration in public health,” she explained. She applied for the program hoping to develop quantitative skills and work with epidemiologists in the field - and left the program with those skills and more.
“The steering committee and leaders were invested in us,” Lucero said. “They didn’t just want to develop our academic skills. They helped improve our professional skills as well. We worked on resumes, developed personal statements and LinkedIn profiles, and discussed graduate school applications.”
The program changed how Lucero views future opportunities. “This program changed who I felt I could be,” she said. “I feel like I have hope and capable of being more than I thought I could be. The support from my AHEaD mentors has been overwhelming.”
As for advice for prospective AHEaD scholars?
“You are more than capable and worth it,” said Lucero. “You will meet the most amazing professionals, leaders, and mentors and make friends that will last a lifetime. Every bit of it was one of my life's most memorable and best parts.”
Applications for the summer 2024 program will open in November 2023. Please see ahead.stanford.edu for the latest information.
The AHEaD 2023 program was sponsored by the NIH National Institute on Aging, the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, and Burroughs Wellcome Fund.