SC HBCU Health Discovery Program Soars into Action in Orangeburg and Denmark


The SC Center for Rural and Primary Healthcare celebrated the virtual launch of the SC HBCU Health Discovery Program today. 


The program is designed to utilize the talent and perspectives of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to promote health and reduce health disparities. It is a collaboration that acknowledges the uniqueness of HBCUs to improve health outcomes in our state. 


"As an alumna of an HBCU, I understood the prominence of these institutions in their communities and their impact on their students," said CRPH Program Manager and HBCU Health Discovery Program Lead Andrea Mitchell. "It is important to have a program that uses these features in way that could directly address the health needs of their students and the surrounding communities in a way that brings innovation that only HBCUs can."


HBCUs played a significant role in giving African American students access to higher education. They are marked by a rich history and distinctive contributions, especially in the sciences, generating 25% of all bachelor's degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics earned by African Americans. HBCUs are deeply connected and positioned to create a lasting impact on the well-being of their communities.


The HBCU Health Discovery initiative will have collaborative leadership, guided by a steering committee comprised of student ambassadors, rural health experts, representatives from the partnering universities, and legislative representatives. This program will underscore the pivotal role HBCUs play in shaping the health landscape for their communities. 


"What is most exciting about the SC HBCU Health Discovery program is that it is developed and designed by the HBCU community with student engagement," said CRPH Associate Director Michele Stanek. "The communities are designing programs that positively impact health not only for their campus community but for the larger community in which they reside. At the same time, it is developing and training student ambassadors to lead efforts to reduce health inequities and disparities for all of South Carolina."


Claflin University in Orangeburg and Voorhees University in Denmark are the first institutions to participate in the program. Each university will focus on its own initiative; however, both initiatives will promote and reduce health disparities while giving students real-world experience:


  • Claflin University's DEEP Wellness initiative seeks to improve health in rural Orangeburg by introducing primary care services for students and residents of the surrounding community. The initiative will use Smart HOME technology and artificial intelligence to engage students and community members by promoting healthy behaviors, particularly around chronic disease management. Additionally, the program will offer valuable learning experiences to students. Students can conduct research focused on rural health disparities and receive training to serve as community health workers, benefiting the campus and community. 


  • Voorhees University has received a planning grant that will enable them to assess their campus's and community's health needs. The results will be used to create programs and interventions to reduce the burden of chronic illness and establish a healthy campus initiative that will provide comprehensive health resources to their students. In addition, there is support for curriculum development for students to support rural community health development through service-learning opportunities. 


The program's commitment to preparing and inspiring the next generation of healthcare leaders is particularly significant for rural healthcare. It seeks to establish a sustainable pipeline of diverse students entering the healthcare workforce by providing mentorship and networking opportunities, ensuring a continuous flow of talent into the healthcare sector. 


"This program was designed with sustainability in mind!" said Rural Health Consultant and Chairwoman for the Center of Excellence for Educator Preparation and Innovation, LaRonda Johnson. "We have recruited advisors committed to facilitating equitable care in their work and will inspire students to do the same on their career path. The program's leadership and advocacy training components will prepare students for active roles in shaping the future of healthcare. I am excited about the intersections between academia, population health, leadership, and community engagement that can become aligned and connected."


The CRPH is excited to continue engaging with our state's HBCUs and looks forward to developing partnerships with other SC HBCUs to form the next HBCU Health Discovery cohort as we remain steadfast in our dedication and investment in these pillars of our rural communities. 


"Our nation's future depends upon educated and skilled individuals," said Mitchell. "HBCUs have always been where students can be fed educationally and culturally. Through this program, our state HBCUs will also be able to equip its students to be their healthy selves as they become future leaders."