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Published in CenterView on July 15, 2013
From left: Michael Jones, Linda Croft-Poole and Dr. Juanyce Taylor.
From left: Michael Jones, Linda Croft-Poole and Dr. Juanyce Taylor.

New grant-funded project aims to boost male diversity in SHRP

By Matt Westerfield

In some ways, the racial makeup of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s student body hasn’t changed much since the 1970s, according to Dr. Juanyce Taylor.

As someone who spent the first three years of her life at UMMC, she has some perspective on the subject. Taylor was born while her father, Dr. Zachary Taylor, was a medical student living in the former on-campus apartments in the early ’70s. Now, she’s chair of health sciences in the School of Health Related Professions and has secured a grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to support a new effort to boost diversity to 21st century proportions among UMMC’s male students.

The Health Care Equity and Leadership Institute aims to help community college students participate in leadership-training activities at UMMC and continue their education here beyond the associate-degree level.

“Specifically, the goal is to provide academic preparation and leadership opportunities to underrepresented males, ages 17-25, and to improve health outcomes, educational attainment and access to care among racial and ethnic minorities,” Taylor said. “Through this program, we will capture information about social determinants and social influences that impact individuals’ health and prosperity.”

The project focuses on African-American, Hispanic and Native-American males because that’s the demographic with the lowest enrollment on campus and was aligned with the Kellogg Foundation’s solicitation, Taylor said. In fact, only 5 percent of SHRP’s more than 730 students fit that category.

The program will recruit students from the state’s 15 community and junior colleges to participate in the institute.

“A lot of our programs in SHRP are already working with community colleges,” Taylor said. “The school has articulation agreements with them through the 2+U Program.

“The idea is to identify these young men and get them to participate in this Health Care Equity and Leadership Institute through recruitment from the community colleges and try to facilitate their successful entry into one of our bachelor-level health-related programs.”

Taylor applied for the grant last fall, which funds the project at $150,000 for three years. Between now and January, she will work on recruiting 10-15 students to be in the first cohort, as well as peer mentors, with the help of an advisory board. That board is still in the process of being formed, but so far includes Michael Jones, chief community health officer, and Linda Croff-Poole, director of the undergraduate Health Sciences Program.

At the start of the new year, Taylor officially will launch the program with a day-and-a-half symposium hosted by SHRP, featuring nationally known experts.

“What we would like to do is hold a series of workshops for our participants and males here on our campus (over the course of three years),” Taylor said. “Part of the money will be used to support their travel to UMMC for the workshops. We also hope to secure iPads to teach them how we use technology in health care.

“A lot of their leadership development activities will be through the use of educational software, whether they’re participating in webinars or different training modules from their respective campuses.”

Taylor said one of the project’s benefits will be gauging the perceptions that African-Americans, Latinos and Native-Americans have regarding education and health, noting that the overall high school graduation rate in Hinds County is 69 percent.

“We know that we are still falling well below the benchmark of our graduation rate across the state,” she said. “While we continue to celebrate the progress that we’ve made with diversity, we still have underlying issues where there are some missing faces.

“Even in our own faculty pool, if we look at how many males of color are in faculty or leadership positions, you don’t see many.”

Dr. Jessica Bailey, dean of SHRP, said the faculty is proud to serve as a host site for the program.

“We’re pleased to have Dr. Taylor leading this effort and providing this unique opportunity to an underserved group of our Mississippi residents,” she said. “This endeavor is representative of our efforts to provide quality educational opportunities that ultimately lead to better health outcomes for all the residents of our state.”

Taylor said there are systemic changes that must be made to ensure the Medical Center has a diverse health-care workforce.

“If we are to say that we are a diverse institution, we need to continue to do things to demonstrate that we are,” she said.