UAMS, Philander Smith Partner to Increase Minorities in Health Care and Address Health Disparities, Physician Shortages

Until December 2019, Philander Smith College student Hunter Black wanted to be a pharmacist. Then, he did some research over the winter break and realized that he could have an even greater direct impact on the lives of his patients if he became a doctor.

Medical student Hunter Black and Cynthia Burroughs, Ph.D.

“It was like I had to cross a mental threshold,” Black said. “I had to let myself know that I was capable of doing more, that I was capable of being anything I really wanted to be. It wasn’t so crazy anymore, this idea of being a doctor.”

Back at school after the winter break, he got to work setting this plan into action, and quickly found out about the HBCU Med Track program by Philander Smith and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Fast-forward through months of dedicated studying – in the midst of a pandemic, no less – and Black was one of 14 students who recently took the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) this summer, which is a requirement for getting into medical school.

“I wouldn’t have been able to have done it without them,” Black said.

The Med Track program provides a combination of mentoring, tutoring and assistance navigating the application process for medical school and other health care careers. It is a partnership of UAMS, Philander Smith College and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB). It was funded in 2019 from part of a $4.6 million grant to UAMS from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to address the rural physician shortage in Arkansas.

HBCU Med Track aims to create a partnership between the historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the state to help more minority students enter the medical field. The goal is to train people from Arkansas who represent and understand its wide diversity, so that those individuals can stay in Arkansas, treat underserved communities, and lessen the impact of an ongoing rural physician shortage that is only expected to worsen in the coming decades.

Cynthia Burroughs, Ph.D., site director for the program at Philander Smith and a professor in the biology program, said the program’s combination of tutoring, mentorship and system navigation is key. It is modeled off of other successful programs, like one at Xavier University in Louisiana.

“We’ve had a long relationship with UAMS, but this makes it more formal and organized,” Burroughs said. “Students of color who want to go into medicine are coming to Philander Smith already. They seek us out. This program helps us give them a more personalized relationship with UAMS before they apply for medical school so that they are more likely to consider UAMS when it is time for them to apply. Because currently, our top students are going out of state, and they might not come back.”

Sederick C. Rice, Ph.D., site director for the program at UAPB and an assistant professor in the Department of Biology, said many UAPB students understand health disparities and physician shortages firsthand.

“We have students from different parts of the state, including the Delta,” Rice said. “This program helps us support students from these communities who are already familiar with the cultures and the challenges of the places they come from and are dedicated to being a part of the solution. I had one student say: ‘you know, Doc, I come from a small town and we don’t have a pharmacy or a clinic. We have to drive several miles to access that. I want to go back and establish a clinic so that not only my family members benefit, but other people in that community.’”

Students and faculty alike agreed that the support provided by the program model is key to improving opportunities for underrepresented minorities in medicine. Students in the HBCU Med-Track Program are interested in health science career options, an opportunity to learn “the ropes” to be able to prepare competitive applications and personal statements, improve their interview and test-taking skills – all on top of a strengthening their science and math backgrounds. Mentorship, relationships and support are the special glue that holds it all together.

Renisha Ward is education coordinator of the HBCU Med Track program at UAMS. Ward graduated from UAPB a firm believer that HBCU’s can play a unique role in encouraging and supporting minority students.

“Life is a struggle,” Ward said. “There’s always going to be a struggle. But sometimes it’s nice to know I can look to my left and my right and there will be a brother and a sister who are there in the struggle with me. Not only that, but there are people in corporate America, in education, in medicine, and science who will fight for you.”

Ward said through the Med Track program, she is able to become that contact at UAMS for these students. Pre-pandemic, some would come and sit in her office daily. Now, they all log on together for tutoring online.

“Now they literally have a face, someone they know at UAMS who is truly invested in them and who they can reach out to,” Ward said.

Black agreed. He said the mentors and current med school students at UAMS who have spoken to them have been a great support.

“They’ve been really open to talking to us about everything from the MCAT to what it’s really like in medical school,” Black said. “They’ve helped us to stay motivated by showing us what is possible and then feeling like we have people in our corner.”

Ward points to the numbers to show that the program is making a difference. Among the students who have participated in HBCU Med Track since it began in November 2019, four have been accepted in the College of Pharmacy (including one, who, at 19, is the youngest student to be accepted to the college), one in the College of Public Health with three more applying, and the 14 students applying for medical school.

Ward said that she’s seen buy in from UAMS, UAPB and Philander Smith that has really made a difference. The program enjoys the support of the top leadership in the UAMS College of Medicine, and Ward is thankful for the many faculty and industry mentors who volunteer their help.

“Especially during the pandemic, people who suddenly had more time on their hands reached out and offered to be speakers or mentors,” Ward said. “They had messages for the students like, ‘hey, I was just like you once. You can get to where you want to go.’”

At UAMS, the HBCU Med Track program is one part of the larger Arkansas Medical Education Primary Care Partnership, which is a project of the UAMS College of Medicine, UAMS Regional Campuses across the state, and the UAMS Department of Family & Preventive Medicine. Program Director Christopher T. Westfall, M.D., UAMS executive vice chancellor and College of Medicine dean; is assisted by co-directors Marcia Byers, Ph.D., director of clinical innovation for UAMS Regional Campuses; Daniel Knight, M.D., associate professor of Family & Preventive Medicine; and Leslie Stone, M.D., M.P.H., director of Medical Student Education for the Department of Family & Preventive Medicine.

Social Justice Institute at Philander Smith College Announces 2020-2021 Fellowship Program

The Social Justice Institute at Philander Smith College (SJI) has announced a new partner for its Undergraduate Fellowship program. Wright Lindsey Jennings (WLJ), a premier law firm based in Little Rock, has pledged a two-year collaborative commitment to underwrite the Fellowship program. 

Now in its third cohort, the Social Justice Fellows program offers Philander Smith College students the unique opportunity to become deeply engaged in advocacy and leadership activities. Through immersive social justice education, public policy training and personal development, Fellows are expected to gain firsthand experience in the steps and processes to policy reform and the foundation needed to build equitable systems in communities.  

“We are excited to have the support of Wright Lindsey Jennings as this program moves forward,” said SJI Executive Director Tamika Edwards, J.D. “True social justice is rooted in policy reform and addresses laws that serve as a breeding ground for inequality in our communities. Through this collaboration, not only will Wright Lindsey Jennings provide program funding, but we will also work hand-in-hand to identify educational opportunities to help our students understand the critical role the legal system plays in justice-oriented work.”

Wright Lindsey Jennings has a longstanding commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity within the practice of law and within the greater community. The firm has also demonstrated a commitment to civil liberties throughout its 120-year history through the support of causes such as free speech, prisoners’ rights, equality in public education and diversity in the legal profession. WLJ provides support to missions and organizations dedicated to improving the imbalance in legal representation and access to justice and policymaking. Through firm initiatives like WLJ Tech Law, they also work with community partners to improve economic opportunities for entrepreneurs of color in the tech and startup space. 

 “This collaboration is just one step in our fight against racism and systemic inequality,” said Managing Partner Steve Lancaster. “In 1957, we publicly denounced segregation at Little Rock Central High School and today, more than 50 years later, the moment is no less critical. We know that there is work to do and we will continue to listen and stand with those working to promote equity and equality.”   

Applications for the 2020-2021 Social Justice Fellowship are open now to Philander Smith College students with a minimum of thirty (30) credit hours. To learn more about the Social Justice Institute please visit 

Philander Smith College Celebrates Black History by Recognizing High School Excellence

For the last four years, Philander Smith College has dedicated a special Black History Month celebration to recognize local high school academic all-stars during the African American High School Honors Ceremony. Since its inception, the program has honored over nearly 1,000 high school seniors from Central Arkansas schools. This year’s event, which took place on Sunday, February 23 in the Crawford J. Mims Gymnasium was the largest yet, with approximately 300 students receiving recognition. 

photograph of students and college president

Established to celebrate academic excellence in the African American community among high school seniors with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher, the program honors students from several school districts throughout the area including charter and private schools. In addition to recognition for their high school academic performance, Philander Smith also awards scholarships to eligible student attendees. For the 2020 program, a total of approximately $7.5 million in scholarships were announced.

“Because Central Arkansas is home to such bright and talented young people, it was our desire to not only applaud the outstanding high school careers of young scholars, but to also afford them with an opportunity to earn a first-class college education right here at Philander Smith,” said President Roderick L. Smothers, Sr. “We could not think of a better way to help observe Black History Month than by placing in the spotlight the next generation of future leaders and history-makers with an effort to encourage higher education.”

 A highlight of the afternoon were the two current PSC scholars featured as speakers, both of whom are from Little Rock and are alumni of the program to honor high school excellence. Jamese Lambert, ’21 and Nia James, ’20, attended the ceremony as high school seniors and their experiences in being recognized and awarded scholarships led them to alter their plans and enroll in Philander Smith College.

 Following the ceremony, the student honorees, their families, and guests were invited to a reception in the atrium of the Kendall Center where they were able to network with PSC faculty, staff, Division Chairs and current students to gain firsthand knowledge of the Philander experience – to include academic programs, financial aid resources and student services.

Crenchaw Aviation Exhibit Lands Permanent Home at Philander Smith College Library

Philander Smith College is proud to now serve as home for the Dr. Milton Pitts Crenchaw exhibit. Unveiled on Friday, February 21 at its new location in the D.W. Reynolds Library and Technology Center, the exhibit was previously installed at the Bill & Hillary Clinton National Airport. The now permanent fixture highlights the life and work of the former Tuskegee Airman who was a native of Little Rock. A historical figure across the nation, Crenchaw led the first successful flight instructor program at Philander Smith College in the 1940s and 1950s.

Mr. Charles King, VP for Institutional Advancement, and Dr. Michele Wise-Wright, President of the Milton Pitts Crenchaw Aviation Training Academy (MPCATA), led the installation ceremony which was attended by MPCATA Board Members, Philander Smith College faculty, students, staff and members of the community.

Philander Smith College and UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law Create Pipeline for Minority Law Students

Philander Smith College and The University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law announced on Tuesday, October 16, 2019 a joint-effort to create a 4+3 pipeline program.

 This new partnerships recognizes Philander Smith College’s commitment to preparing aspiring students for law school and provides guaranteed acceptance to Bowen for Philander graduates who meet specific criteria.

 “Bowen consistently attracts quality applicants.” said Assistant Dean of Admissions Matthew Kerns. “With competition to enter the law school increasing, these programs reinforce our commitment to Philander Smith College students and the Little Rock community and ensure that highly motivated graduates have spots at the law school.”

 Philander Smith College alumni qualify for the 4+3 program if they earned a minimum cumulative UGPA of 3.40; scored a 154 or above on the LSAT; and have no character and fitness issues that would disqualify them from being admitted to the bar. Prospective students can apply to the Law School through Students must apply to Bowen and satisfactorily complete all admissions requirements.

 In addition to this program and other scholarship opportunities, Bowen offers a 25% tuition scholarship to accepted students who earned a bachelor’s degree from an Arkansas historically black college or university.  

 “We are incredibly gratified to be a partner with the Bowen School of Law to expand access to law school for our students,” said Philander Smith College President Dr. Roderick L. Smothers, Sr. “As an institution rooted and grounded in social justice, we aim to graduate leaders who are equipped to fight inequality. This opportunity aligns with our mission, ensuring that legal scholars will be well-prepared for the front lines of service.”

 Bowen prepares students for a variety of careers, including roles as attorneys, judges, or other public service leadership positions.

 This is the law school’s third pipeline program. Bowen has another 4+3 program with UA Little Rock.  Similarly, Philander Smith College has a 3+2 program with University of Arkansas Fayetteville for Engineering and a 4+1 program for Public Health with University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Inaugural Scholar in Residence is named for Social Justice Institute at Philander Smith College

The Social Justice Institute at Philander Smith College has named Donna Hylton to serve as its first Scholar in Residence for a term that commences Sept. 9.

Hylton is deeply involved in movements for social justice around the country, drawing upon her experience being imprisoned in a women’s correctional facility for 27 years.


“I am thrilled and so honored for this opportunity,” said Hylton. “During my residency at Philander Smith College, I hope to bring my story to the classroom and to Little Rock, as well as an afford an opportunity to bring an authentic view of the criminal justice system to ensure the dignity and humanity of those interacting with it –from the inside, out.”

The ‘Scholar in Residence’ is a part of the Institute’s strategy to engage Philander Smith College students and the broader community in gaining a deeper understanding of social justice and the ways in which people can make a meaningful impact. “We understand social justice as an umbrella that covers a vast number of issues that includes – but is not limited to – race, economics, gender, LGBTQ, food, education, prison, health and environmental injustices,” said Tamika S. Edwards,  Social Justice Institute Executive Director. “Ms. Hylton will provide a diverse approach toward these important issues to broaden the worldview of our student body and surrounding community.”

Through the Scholar in Residence program, combined with a number of other partnerships and events, the Social Justice Institute aims to further the conversation on social justice and move the program to a model of intentional impact. PSC President Dr. Roderick L. Smothers, Sr. believes this approach is foundational to helping grow the Institute to a regional center for justice-centered education.

“We are thrilled to welcome Ms. Hylton as part of our efforts to broaden the scope of our Social Justice Institute,” said President Smothers. “We look forward to our Scholar in Residence’s engaging work and focus on helping our students and those beyond our campus to not only understand their responsibility to injustices, but to also be committed to advocacy and eradication of inequalities.”

Hylton’s first public appearance is slated to be a reading and of her memoir, A Little Piece of Light, at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13 at the Little Rock Barnes & Noble bookstore.  The following day, Saturday, Sept. 14, she will be a guest speaker at the 2nd Annual DecARcerate Conference that will be held at the CALS Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock wherescholars, advocates, and formerly incarcerated people will discuss Arkansas’ systems of mass incarceration and criminalization.

Philander Smith Welcomes Dr. Phillip Pointer to College’s Faculty

Saint Mark Senior Pastor to Chair PSC Department of Philosophy and Religion

Philander Smith College is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Phillip L. Pointer to the institution’s faculty in 2019-20 as Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion. 

Pointer is the Senior Pastor of the Saint Mark Baptist Church, one of the largest congregations in Little Rock, which he has led since 2012. Prior to relocating with his family to Arkansas, he was Senior Pastor of St. John Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., which became Providence St. John Baptist Church once it merged with another church ministry. 

“As we embark upon a new academic term, we are elated about the addition of Dr. Phillip Pointer to our faculty. This dynamic theologian will help the College re-align with our bedrock mission of training highly qualified ministers and teachers,” stated PSC President Roderick L. Smothers, Sr.  “His keen intellect and philosophical and religious insight will empower us to mold the Department of Philosophy and Religion into a contemporary model in which to serve the diverse needs of today’s ministries.”  

 “I’m extremely excited to join the faculty at Philander Smith College,” said Dr. Pointer.  “This opportunity allows me to expand the scope of my work as Senior Pastor of Saint Mark and to help shape the lives and minds of young scholars. Saint Mark is excited to be a partner with this historic institution.”

Born in Port Arthur, Texas, and reared in Washington, D.C., Pointer holds a Master of Divinity from The Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University and a Doctor of Ministry from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

Philander Smith College Student Recognized as 2019-2020 White House Competitiveness Scholar

The White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities has named Paola Vazquez, a junior at Philander Smith College, among 44 students from 34 historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) as a 2019 HBCU Competitiveness Scholars – the Initiative’s highest student recognition.

Paola Vazquez, a junior at Philander Smith College

Comprised of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, Competitiveness Scholars are recognized for successfully preparing to compete for top opportunities that improve long-term outcomes. Each was nominated and endorsed by their institution President, which itself is an honorable mention. Johnathan Holifield, Executive Director of the Initiative, said “the Initiative’s watchword is competitiveness and these students are fine examples of the depth and diversity of competitive talent at our institutions. We are honored to recognize them.”

Vazquez, who is a native of Little Rock, is majoring in Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science. An honors student and active participant on campus, she plans to pursue graduate school and study computer engineering.

The 2019 scholars were selected from among several highly distinguished HBCU students chosen based on their academic achievement, campus and civic involvement and entrepreneurial ethos or “go-getter” spirit. In the course of their one-year term, Competitiveness Scholars will learn and share proven and promising practices that support individual and institutional achievement, with the goal of strengthening prospects for career and life success.

“We’re looking forward to working with and learning from with this new cohort of HBCU Competitiveness Scholars,” said Elyse Jones, the Initiative’s Coordinator for the Scholars Program. “We have lots of unique, fun and interactive opportunities planned for this year that will provide new opportunities for these representatives, exposing them to critical national conversations and powerful thought leaders.”

Competitiveness Scholars will assemble during the 2019 National HBCU Week Conference, September 8-11 at the Renaissance Washington DC Hotel – the theme of which is Enhancing HBCU Competitiveness: Student Achievement. Quality Partnerships. Institutional Performance. (I like the periods vs. commas – let me know your thoughts). They will participate in workshops designed to strengthen their leadership, wealth creation and management and civic engagement and will be encouraged to seek out ongoing personal and professional development in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Competitiveness Scholars will receive their recognition at the HBCU week conference during the Initiative’s Excellence in Innovation and Competitiveness Awards luncheon ceremony on September 9.

Charles King Named Vice President for Institutional Advancement of Philander Smith College

Philander Smith College has appointed Charles King  as vice president for institutional advancement. In this role, he will lead all fund development activities and oversee public relations and marketing, special events and alumni relations.

Charles King

King has over ten years of higher education fundraising experience gained from posts at Jackson State University, Prairie View A&M University Foundation and Langston University. Most recently, he served as senior major gifts officer at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

A native of Blytheville, Ark., King earned a bachelor of science in psychology from Arkansas State University in addition to a professional fundraising certificate from The Fundraising School at Indiana University.