Training Undergrads in Health Equity Research


SPARK (Students Participating as Ambassadors for Research in Kentucky) trains undergraduate students from under-represented backgrounds in how to conduct research, from designing a study and submitting IRB applications to presenting their findings at a conference.

SPARK pilot participants

The SPARK program allows undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds to get a jumpstart in health equity research, beginning their first year of college.

Accepted participants, called SPARKlers, design, implement, analyze data, and present findings from a health equity research in their home communities with training and mentorship from UK experts and community partners. 

They learn how to write a small grant, operate a budget, develop a research protocol, adhere to human subjects and research integrity standards, collaborate with community members, and present their research at a large conference.

While hands-on experience and building their CV is important future academic and employment prospects, we know that most students- and especially those from underrepresented backgrounds- can't afford to skip a summer of earning a wage. That's why we provide SPARKlers with a generous stipend for their summer research work, in addition to funding for their research itself. 

SPARK is a collaboration between the UK CCTS, the UK Center for Health Equity Transformation, and the UK Office of Undergraduate Research.


In 2019, the SPARK program launched a pilot phase with three SPARKLers:


Sidney Bibbs 

Project Title: An Examination of the Motivators and Barriers to Blood Donation among African-Americans in Lexington, Kentucky


Research Question and Health Equity Population: The objective of this research is to understand the specific motivators and barriers for blood donation in African-Americans in the Lexington community. Furthermore, among African-Americans, does blood donation messaging from a faith-based leader influence the decision to donate blood? 

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Anita Fernander (Department of Behavioral Science, College of Medicine, UK)

Community Mentor: Quintissa Peake (Member of UK Alumni Association Board of Directors)

Research Methods: A survey will be administered to African-Americans in various sites in and around the Lexington community. In-depth interviews will also be administered to a select group of participants. One of these interviewees will be an African-American woman who has sickle cell disease, a condition whose treatment relies heavily on blood transfusions. The study population will include approximately 100 African-Americans, both male and female, all 18 years of age and older.

Simone Bibbs

Project Title: The Role and Impact of Recovery Programs and Community Services on the Recovery and Reintegration of Survivors of Sex Trafficking


Research Question and Health Equity Population: How does the collaboration between recovery programs and community resources/services facilitate the recovery and reintegration of survivors of sex trafficking? 

Faculty Mentors: Dr. T.K. Logan & Dr. Jennifer Cole (Department of Behavioral Science, College of Medicine, UK)

Community Mentor: Mark Johnson (Kentucky Department for Public Health in the HIV/AIDS Section)

Research Methods: Telephone interviews will be conducted with program staff who work within existing recovery support programs for survivors of sex trafficking in Kentucky. Calls will be made from an office in the Center on Drug and Alcohol Research.

Hannah Bowling

Project Title: Identifying Facilitators and Barriers of Physical Activity in a Rural Trail Town 


Research Question and Health Equity Population: What are the facilitators and barriers to getting physical activity in Perry County? This project targets Appalachian residents.

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Melinda Ickes (Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion, College of Education)

Community Mentor: Betsy Clemons

Research Methods: Participants will be recruited at community events and meetings to complete a survey on physical activity in Perry County.