DALLAS, April 11, 2023  The current number of U.S. medical school graduates does not equitably represent the total population of Black and Hispanic Americans, according to the most recent research. Research also shows that having a diverse health care workforce can result in better health care outcomes for diverse patient populations. [1]During National Minority Health Month, the American Heart Association, continues its commitment to building healthier lives by recognizing undergraduate students from communities historically under-represented in the sciences currently enrolled in the Association’s nationwide scholars program and studying biomedical and health sciences at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) and other institutions of higher learning.

The students come from different parts of the country and have different cultural backgrounds. Each scholar demonstrates the desire to pursue careers as a scientific researcher and health care professional. They are helping to bridge the diversity gap in science and medicine by being change agents while building the pipeline to help supply a truly plural next generation of health care professionals.

The American Heart Association Scholars Program serves as the umbrella for training and research opportunities for HBCU and HSI students, and the Association’s EmPOWERED Scholars™ initiative focuses on educational and career-enriching experiences for a full academic year for students under-represented in the sciences studying at any institution of higher learning.

With the formal structural support of the American Heart Association and committed and impactful mentors nationwide, students learn about health disparities in various communities where social determinants of health are prevalent. It allows them the opportunity to learn the necessary skillsets that are needed to help improve the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Through their actions, students and mentors have proven that they are concerned about how cultural sensitivity can provide safe and reassuring clinical spaces and how inclusivity is essential in science.

In addition to their studies, these American Heart Association scholars are involved with community-based and student-led organizations and other groups that address food insecurity, safe housing, job opportunities, access to health care and other conditions that can result in serious health disparities. These students have worked to raise awareness about issues through creative and innovative action in advocacy, policy, education, and social change models. Their work affects people from racial and ethnic minority groups and encourages action through health education, early detection, and control of disease complications. 

”The American Heart Association’s HBCU Scholars Program has provided me with many enriching opportunities to network with leading professionals in the biomedical sciences field,” said Arianna Bastian, a member of the HBCU Scholars program class of 2023. “Through this program, I met generous individuals who cared for me like family. After graduating from Benedict College with my Bachelor of Science in Biology in May 2023, I will spend the summer with Quest Diagnostics as one of their Women's Health interns focusing on ovarian and endometrial cancer. My experience in the scholar’s program has profoundly impacted my life, and I want to help the next generation of future medical professionals in the same way.”

The following scholars are being recognized by the American Heart Association during National Minority Health Month:

Perisa Ashar, an EmPOWERED Scholar, is a sophomore majoring in biomedical engineering science at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. She is from Glen Allen, Virginia and is an ardent changemaker for health equity by helping dismantle barriers and policies that allow for unequal resource distributions across localities to have better social determinants of health within under-funded communities.

Dario Nicolas Ayala is an HSI Scholar, who is a sophomore majoring in biology/behavioral neuroscience at Miami Dade College in Florida. The Miami native is interested in research and igniting his passion to make an impact on his local community.

Arianna Bastian is an HBCU Scholar, who is a senior majoring in biology at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina. Arianna originally hails from Freeport, Bahamas. After graduating in May, she will spend the summer with Quest Diagnostics as one of their Women's Health interns focusing on Ovarian and Endometrial cancer. In Fall 2023, she will matriculate at the University of South Carolina to pursue a doctorate in biomedical sciences program.

Samantha Bonilla is an HSI Scholar alumnae. She graduated from California State University, Dominguez Hills with a degree in health science and community health major. She is currently a Community Impact Manager with the American Heart Association in Los Angeles, where she is addressing disparities in her community. Samantha is also pursuing a master’s degree in public health at UCLA.  

Chisom Ezenwenyi is an HBCU Scholar, who is a junior majoring in Biomedical Sciences, at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina. She is helping build a community within her hometown of Durham with students who want to be successful in medicine by doing hands-on research.

Christina Pham is an EmPOWERED Scholar, who is a sophomore at De Anza College in San Jose, California studying business administration.  She is from Cupertino, California, and has been granted the remarkable opportunity to unite with a community of knowledgeable and inspiring individuals, and together, ignite a transformational movement towards better public health for all.

Tyler Sanchez is an HSI Scholar, who is a junior at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, pursuing a degree in biology/pre-med. He says that through the HSI program, he has learned that no matter where you come from, you can achieve anything if you are willing to put in the necessary hours to achieve your goals.

Melissa Spigelman is an HSI Scholar, who is a junior at Montclair University in Montclair, New Jersey, studying molecular biology. She is from Montclair and has been empowered to use her voice to fight for health equity and challenge systemic issues. Being part of the Association’s program has inspired Melissa to be an advocate for marginalized communities, where she can continue to move the needle for a community that values diversity and strives for social justice.

For more information about the American Heart Association Scholars, visit:

Additional Resources:


About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health, and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on heart.orgFacebookTwitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.   

For Media Inquiries: 214-706-1173

Zack Burgess: 313-573-2116; Zack.Burgess@heart.org

For Public Inquiries: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (242-8721)

heart.org and stroke.org

[1] https://www.aamc.org/data-reports/workforce/data/figure-18-percentage-all-active-physicians-race/ethnicity-2018