History of HSTA

In the early 1990s, the Dean of WVU’s Health Sciences Center, Dr. Bob D’Alessandri, was an American Association of Medical Colleges leader and serious about the organization’s effort to enroll 3,000 under-represented students in medical school by the year 2000. He asked Ann Chester, Ph.D., a leader in the Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP), what WVU should do to get more minorities into WVU’s HCOP program? She answered, “I would start earlier.” Together with the leadership of Rudy Filek, Ph.D., they applied for and were funded by the 1993 Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant. The $250,000 award allowed them to assemble a pilot HSTA program in two southern West Virginia counties: urban Kanawha and rural McDowell. Each county set up multiple HSTA clubs with one teacher and 10 students per club, for a total of 44 ninth graders and nine teachers.

Dr. Rudy Filek, at the time a retired dean from the WVU College of Extension, had a background in community organizing and grant-writing. He and Ann set HSTA up with an infrastructure reminiscent of 4-H: local clubs operated by local people and supported by a summer camp component for short-term, intensive study. The first summer camp was held in 1994 before the HSTA school year, just like HSTA holds summer camps ahead of each school year today. Each after-school club had 10 students and a teacher, just like they do today. The focus of the program was health sciences and research, just like it is today.

In 1994, Rudy and Ann applied for and received a grant from the Kellogg Foundation for $2 million. Luckily, one of the requirements was 51%-49% community-campus ownership. Here is where the true HSTA was born. This is where the team started to deviate from the status quo of putting on summer camps independently of community and teachers. This is where the true ownership of HSTA shifted from the university to the community members that continue to operate the program today. Community volunteers facilitated by HSTA staff set its policies and procedures. Community volunteers select its students and oversee its finances, the teachers, and field site coordinators that work with their students. A network of colleges and universities support the program.

It is that community engagement that involved the West Virginia State Legislature in HSTA. West Virginia communities and their leaders talked with their representatives. They made sure their representatives saw the impact HSTA had on their counties and towns. And they influenced how the legislature voted. With their help, Bob, Ann, Rudy, and others were able to get legislation passed that provided for the tuition waiver. By 1997, it was in place. The very first HSTA cohort, which started in 1994, was able to take the tuition waiver with them when they went to college in 1998. 

HSTA has expanded to where it is today — with 800 students and 75-80 teachers — through the hard work of dedicated staff and community members from 26 counties across West Virginia. Their hard work has provided support for approximately 2,400 students to successfully graduate from HSTA. These same students might not have had this opportunity to go to college or to live and work in West Virginia in well-paying jobs if not for HSTA.