DALLAS, May 5, 2020 — Ten college students are receiving $10,000 scholarships from the American Heart Association for their work to help close health disparity gaps – which appear to contribute to disproportionately high rates of sickness and death among people of color during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Association, the world’s leading nonprofit organization focused on heart and brain health for all, launched the EmPOWERED to ServeTM Scholars program in 2018 to empower college freshmen, sophomores and juniors focused on improving the health and wellbeing of their communities. Since its inception, EmPOWERED to Serve Scholars has helped nearly 20 students address health disparities in their communities.

The 2020 EmPOWERED to Serve Scholars are:

  • Noun Abdelaziz, Sophomore, Sociology and International Affairs, San Diego Miramar College. Noun is a refugee from Sudan who works to destigmatize mental health in underserved communities. She built a pilot program that helped distribute culturally relevant meals at low cost and testified before the California Senate to help pass a bill to reduce food deserts. Her goal is to work for the United Nations as a policymaker to represent Sudanese communities.
  • Alana Barr, Sophomore, Public policy, Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta). Alana founded a coalition to help connect her peers with community service projects and volunteer opportunities. She works to address food insecurity and homelessness in the metro Atlanta area and has volunteered to help provide surplus medical supplies to developing countries. Through an internship with the Atlanta City Council, she helped introduce legislation to improve public health efforts.
  • Lady Dororthy Elli, Freshman, Public Health and Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, University of Arizona (Tucson). Lady Dorothy is an immigrant from the Philippines who has witnessed the impact that food insecurity can have on school performance. Her experiences inspired her to help feed refugee groups and help students learn about free academic resources. Lady Dorothy created a garden for students to grow produce on campus and holds healthy living sessions in parishes, libraries and schools.
  • Katelyn France, Sophomore, Pharmacy, University of Minnesota Duluth. Katelyn grew up in an under-resourced rural community. Her experiences as a nanny helped her understand that the nearest ambulance was often a half an hour away. That inspired her to create a QR code-based medical bracelet that displays a patients’ medication lists, drug interactions and side effects to provide critical health information to first responders. She advocates for under-resourced students and presented her device to the Minnesota governor.
  • Presley LeGrande, Freshman, Neuroscience and Public Health, Santa Clara University (Santa Clara, California). Presley founded the first competitive cheerleading team for athletes with disabilities in the South Bay area. As a coach, she constructs adaptive exercise routines to help her team be active while having fun. The team practices twice a week and pairs athletes with peers who help motivate them. Presley is studying to become a Physician Assistant and plans to open a fitness studio for the special-needs community.
  • Lorena Melendez-Chavez, Junior, Nutrition and Dietetics, California State University, Northridge (Los Angeles, California). Lorena is working to study Latinos with pre-diabetes as part of a program funded by the National Institutes of Health. She raises funds for a student food science association and works as a nutrition educator in Los Angeles senior centers. Lorena previously taught healthy eating habits and gardening skills in low income communities and hopes to help combat obesity and chronic disease around the world.
  • Denise Nguyen, Junior, Public Health, California State University, Northridge (Los Angeles, California). Denise is a health educator on campus, where she collaborates with organizations to develop rape crisis training. She led an effort to incorporate sexual health, self-defense and safety training into Greek life. Previously, she was a camp counselor, where she devoted her time to help improve the lives of children diagnosed with cancer.
  • Diop Russell, Sophomore, English, Spellman College (Atlanta). Diop is a social justice associate at Spellman College. In high school, she launched healthy living workshops with cooking demonstrations, exercise routines and interactive health lessons. She plans to further her social justice work by organizing a symposium to highlight how food inequity contributes to disparities in urban Atlanta.
  • Ngoc Vuong, Junior, Psychology, Public Health and Economics, Wichita State University (Wichita, Kansas). Ngoc launched a grassroots initiative to address mental illness and addiction through art, storytelling and civic engagement. Through the initiative, he launched a short film on the impact of addiction on families. He is working on a book to address bullying in schools and advises school board members on access to mental health services and community collaboration.
  • Sierra Williams – McLeod, Junior, Biochemistry and Biomedical Research, Hampton University (Hampton, Virginia). Sierra co-founded a student-led effort to reduce health disparities among low-income and first-generation students. The initiative provides free food and hygiene products to students in need. She has participated in efforts with Microsoft and Facebook and is working to is establish a mobile food pantry to increase the volume of items to serve her community.

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic challenges shaped by the distribution of financial wealth, power and other resources have contributed to disparities that impede some people from living long, healthy lives. In fact, people in under-resourced communities have a higher risk of developing heart disease, the number one killer of all Americans.[1]

“Now more than ever, we need to support innovative solutions that address health disparities,” said Tanya M. Odom, Ed.M., Global Diversity and Inclusion, education consultant and chair of the American Heart Association’s Diversity Leadership Committee. “The work of these scholars is crucial for the Association."

The application deadline for the 2021 EmPOWERED to Serve Scholars will be announced in the fall. To learn more about this year’s scholars and honorable mentions, visit EmPOWERED to Serve Scholars.

  • Link to this release in Spanish


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.org, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.   

For Media Inquiries:

Susan Young: 214-706-1508; Susan.Young@Heart.org

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