Undergraduate Public Health Scholars


UPHS alumni and graduate mentors, Lucy Rios and Maria Cruz, welcome the new UPHS 2024 cohort

Dear students:

The official UPHS website has moved.Please check out current information and how to apply at:  UC Davis Undergraduate Public Health Scholars

This page provides information on the history of the program, how it works, and lessons learned. I hope by describing our experiences here, those have their own pathway programs or are interested in starting one, find this useful. Building a more inclusive, equitable community of public health scholars is not magic- we just need more and more people to make the commitment.

What is Undergraduate Public Health Scholars (UPHS)?

The goal of the Undergraduate Public Health Scholars program is to provide a mentored summer research experience in public health sciences, for undergraduate UC Davis students who identify with/are eligible for one of the following: UC Davis EOP, BUSP, BUSP-STARS, come from a disadvantaged background as defined by the NIH (See the EEOP eligibility page for specific details), and have a particular interest and demonstrated commitment to advancing health equity.

Students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in one of the many types of research activities conducted by UC Davis faculty, from epidemiology of health disparities, to environmental health and health policy. Students do not have to be in the College of Biological Sciences. Students from ALL majors/disciplines (including non-STEM majors) are encouraged to apply.

Program elements include:

  • Mentored research time of 40 hours per week, with including meetings with mentors at least once per week
  • Scientific skills seminar conducted by the College of Biological Sciences Educational Enrichment & Outreach Programs (EEOP), which includes: introduction to research labs, how to work with research teams, research ethics, creating and delivering research presentations.
  • Journal club: Students learn how to read public health scientific literature and take turns presenting a journal article of their choice to the group
  • Introduction to public health research methods (SPH 198):  Weekly seminar for public health methods, from developing research questions and conducting literature reviews, to introductions to quantitative and qualitative methods
  • End of summer poster session: Scholars present their work in a poster session with the EEOP programs
  • Near-peer mentorship: UCD Public Health Sciences graduate students awarded the Public Health Education Fellowship serve as mentors, facilitate journal club, lead the research methods class, and offer weekly check-ins and support.
  • Students receive a stipend of $5000. The Undergraduate Public Health Scholars Program is funded by the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences, the Davis Rotary Club, and individual donors through Crowdfund UC Davis.
  • Continuing community activities, including: quarterly meetings in the academic year following the UPHS cohort summer; annual alumni meetings; UPHS alumni network resources, such as advice on applying to graduate programs

Who runs UPHS?

Our small but mighty team includes: Michelle Ko, MD, PhD (director), Lucy Rios, MPH, PhD candidate (assistant director), Maria Cruz, MPH, PhD candidate (curriculum lead), and Jessica Mangili (administrative assistant, communications and social media). We also receive substantial support from Connie Champagne, PhD, (director) and the staff in EEOP.

What do UPHS students do after they complete the program?

Building and growing our UPHS community is a key priority. We have been so grateful to see UPHS alumni return to give workshops to current and former students, offer one-on-one advising and continue to show up (virtually and in real life) to our annual gatherings.

UPHS alumni (as of June 2024) are involved in:

  • Graduate education: Enrolled or completed Master’s in Public Health (8); Enrolled in other health professions programs: MD (3), DVM/MPVM (1);
  • Research (5): research associate, coordinator, and data analyst positions, and public health fellowships, including
    • APHA Kaiser Permanente Community Health Fellowship
    • Stanford Advancing Health Equity and Diversity Population Health Research Program
    • California Public Health Pathways Fellowship
  • Other:
    • Directing and teaching in other pre-health pathway programs (MiMentor, UC Davis; )
    • Public policy: Capital Fellows Program
    • Public service: CalPERS, Communicare Health Centers (FQHC), public housing advocacy

How did UPHS get started?

In 2017, I (Michelle Ko) applied for and was awarded a UC Davis Vice Chancellor’s Award for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for $5000. I spent a couple months meeting with several people on campus who leading other undergraduate diversity programs, and  formed a partnership with Dr. Connie Champagne, who by then had been directing (what are now called) EEOP programs in the College of Biological Sciences for over a decade. Connie helped me tremendously on how to set up a program, and offering to support our admissions and invite our students to attend her summer seminars.

How have you kept UPHS going?

After the initial award, for 2018, I requested and received support from the Department of Public Health Sciences to supply 2 student stipends and identified two additional faculty mentors who offered to pay the UPHS stipend.

From 2019-2023, we continued to receive funding from the Department of Public Health Sciences to support student stipends, which also rose to approach greater parity with the EEOP programs, as well as individual research mentors, depending upon the year. In 2023, 7 students completed UPHS.

In 2024, due to the need for systemwide budget cuts, the Department of Public Health Sciences reduced UPHS stipend funding to support only three students. We conducted a crowdfunding campaign through UC Davis, and with a combination of donations and individual mentor support, we were able to accept 6 students.

We have recognized the need for external funding for several years, but funding for pathway programs in public health research is very limited, as most mechanisms focus on biomedical sciences; similar nearly all pathway program funding is restricted to future healthcare professionals, rather than public health workforce.  Our current funding strategy includes: developing connections with UCD Health Development to identify potential funders, submitting new R25/T34 mechanism applications as they become available and UPHS is eligible.

How does UPHS work? What lessons have you learned along the way?

Please see our Nuts and Bolts page.