Dr. Ann L. Chester's awareness of the endemic health-related issues faced by residents of West Virginia's rural communities has led her to focus on the field of health care and health sciences for most of her professional life. The 2,500 students enrolled and mentored through her programs will attest to that engagement. They are students who, because of their minority or economic status, found access to higher education difficult or impossible--until they met Ann Chester.
Her mentoring approach inventively connects academic material and research opportunities with local issues as a way to promote deep learning in students and their communities. Chester observed that the students she sought to support were more apt to learn skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics when they participated in research projects that had an impact on their families and friends.
Chester is Director of the West Virginia University Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP). The HCOP is an intensive, summer enrichment program for minority and majority students living in communities that are medically underserved. The program guides them toward degree completion and careers in health care. On average, participants comprise underrepresented minorities (15 percent of total), financially disadvantaged (71 percent of total), and those who are first in their families to attend college (54 percent). Since its inception in 1985, the HCOP has helped 500 students proceed through college to graduation and beyond. Sixty-eight percent of HCOP students have successfully received degrees in the health professions.
Chester developed a program at West Virginia University (the Health Sciences and Technology Academy) which reaches out to high school students from minority populations and financially disadvantaged families, helping them forge academic and career pathways into the health sciences. From 1998 to 2014, more than 2,000 students have been mentored through that program. Students enter the program in the ninth grade and, to date, 90 percent of these high school students have earned a four-year college degree or higher. This is a truly phenomenal success rate in the state. Chester's program has been replicated at colleges and universities across the country--including Western Michigan University, the University of Alaska, Southeast Missouri State University, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Tennessee. Financial support is provided by the State of West Virginia, the National Institutes of Health, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and Coca-Cola.
She received the 2011 West Virginia University School of Medicine's Dean's Award for Excellence in Service to the Community. Dr. Chester was the W. K. Kellogg Foundation Engagement scholarship winner for the North East Region of the U.S.