Dynamic Collaboration

Students Participating as Ambassadors for Research in Kentucky (SPARK) is a dynamic collaboration between the Center for Health Equity Transformation (CHET), the Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS), the Cardiovascular Disease Research Priority AreaAetna Better Health of Kentucky, and other university and philanthropic partners. The purpose of the SPARK program is to train a diverse cohort of undergraduate students at the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds and communities to conduct impactful research to improve health disparities.

Research Focused on Health Disparities/Health Equity

Students are introduced to community-engaged research focused on health disparities/health equity and receive extensive mentorship. Students identify a research topic, program leaders assist in identifying mentors, and students work with their mentors to develop a project. Students conduct this project in their home communities over the summer, receiving funds to support their research. After implementing the project, students meet with their mentors, undertake data analysis and write-up, and present and publish their research in professional settings.

2023 – 2024 SPARK Cohort

Carey Beth Smith

College: UK College of Human Health Sciences

Major: Pre-med track

Year: Sophomore

Carey Beth is a sophomore in the College of Health Sciences and the Lewis Honors College. She hopes to become a physician and own her own medical practice. Her rural Kentucky upbringing sparked her interest in exploring health disparities. Carey Beth is also the Vice President of Programming of her sorority, Delta Zeta. She enjoys reading, going to the University of Kentucky basketball games, and hanging out with her friends.

Jade Forest

College: UK College of Public Health

Major: Public Health with a minor in Health Promotions

Year: Junior

Jade is a junior in the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky. She is pursuing a public health major with a minor in health promotion. After graduating from the BPH program, she plans on obtaining an MPH with a concentration in Health Behaviors. Postmasters, she intends to work for a health department to assist in reforming adolescent health curriculum to ensure it is comprehensive and accessible for impoverished and underserved communities.


Ellis Jackson

College: Kentucky State University 

Major: Pre-Professional Biology, with a minor in Military Science 

Year: Sophomore

Ellis Jackson is a first-generation college student who is currently enrolled Kentucky State University. Ellis is majoring in Pre-Professional Biology with a minor in Military Science. After graduating, Ellis plans to attend Medical School in the service to become a Radiation Oncologist. In his spare time Ellis enjoys reading, volunteering, lifting weights, and watching movies. 

Segen Mussie

College: Kentucky State University

Major: Pre-Professional Biology with minors in Mass Communication and Sociology

Year: Junior

Segen Mussie is a junior at Kentucky State University (KSU) where she majors in Biology and a double minor in Mass Communications and Sociology. She works with KSU’s counseling center and student government association to connect students to resources they need to enjoy holistic health while achieving academic excellence. After graduating, Segen aspires to be a primary care physician and continue to serve overlooked and underrepresented communities.


Maddie Duff

College: UK Lewis Honors College

Major: Neuroscience with a minor in Appalachian Studies

Year: Sophomore

Maddie is a sophomore at the University of Kentucky Lewis Honors College. She is majoring in neuroscience and minoring in Appalachian studies. She is President of the Appalachian Health Initiative at the University of Kentucky. Maddie’s research experience focuses on opioid misuse and abuse in rural areas. Her future goals include a career in primary care in Appalachia, where she hopes to promote and provide equitable healthcare for everyone.

Treasure Ebikwo

College: UK College of Arts and Sciences

Major: Health, Society, and Populations

Year: Junior

Treasure is a junior with a Health, Society, and Populations major and a minor in Psychology from the College of Arts and Sciences. She serves as the Community Service Chair for UK’s Hues in Medicine, a campus organization for BIPOC students in healthcare. She is interested in a career in the healthcare field with a focus on preventive care. Her goal is to use the skills she would gain in health equity research to become a better physician in the future. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, listening to music, and spending time with her friends and family. 


2022 – 2023 SPARK Cohort

Riya Patel

College: Arts & Sciences
Major: Biology and Neuroscience
Year: Freshman
Riya is freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences where she is double majoring in Biology and Neuroscience. She is interested in a career in the medical field, specifically in the neurosurgery specialty; however, she is also interested in being a Primary Care Physician. Having a CNA Certification and volunteer experience at hospitals has allowed her to strengthen her wish to further a medical career.

Michael McLeod

Kentucky State University (KSU)
College: Agriculture, Community and the Sciences
Major: Biology
Year: Junior
Michael is a junior at KSU where he majors in Biology. He also volunteers with Circle K International and worked with KSU faculty to re-establish the Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students chapter on campus, where he serves as Vice President. He aspires to be an anesthesiologist and for fun he enjoys reading, playing video games, and being with friends.

Princess Magor Agbozo

College: Public Health
Major: Public Health
Year: Sophomore
Princess is an international student from Ghana. She is a sophomore in the College of Public Health. She is pursuing a Public Health major and is on the pre-medical track. Her goals include earning MD and MPH degrees and work in the global health field to improve healthcare accessibility for impoverished and underserved communities. 

Meron Lemma

College: Arts & Sciences and Public Health
Major: Environmental Sustainability Studies and Public Health
Year: Junior
Meron is a junior in the College of Public Health and the College of Arts and Sciences, double majoring in Public Health and Environmental Sustainability Studies. After graduating, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in Global Health. She hopes to work on projects that apply principles from her main areas of interest: global health and environmental sustainability. She believes that having an interdisciplinary background will prepare her to best serve her community by implementing strategies to achieve health equity and environmental justice.

Sairakshitha Yalla

College: Arts & Sciences
Major: Biology and Mathematics
Year: Sophomore
Sairakshitha Yalla is a first-generation immigrant from India who graduated from the MSTC program at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky. Sai aspires to be a physician-scientist who translates fundamental research into clinical interventions that drive effective and impactful healthcare outcomes. In her spare time, she enjoys reading comics, lifting weights, running after her nieces, and mentoring high schoolers.