The Science of Disparities Concentration

(within the Undergraduate Biomedical Sciences Program (BMD Undergraduate major)

Kristin Chapleau, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Kari Dugger, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Samantha Giordano-Mooga, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Nadia Richardson, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Science of Disparities Concentration in BMD

The Biomedical Sciences Program (BMD) is a undergraduate major at the University of Alabama at Birmingham with approximately 700 undergraduate students. As the major has expanded, it is clear we need to create "pathways"/concentrations that allow undergraduate students to expand their expertise into sub-specialities within the biomedical sciences field. The goal of this work is to create a Science of Disparities concentration within BMD, that will be designated on student transcripts and provide students the opportunity to create unique expertise that accommodates their personalized career goals.


The Biomedical Sciences Undergraduate major is a two-pronged curriculum that emphasizes both science content knowledge and professional skills development. There is significant emphasis placed on written/oral communications, effective teamwork, and critical thinking to ensure our students have the transferable skill expertise needed to succeed, wherever their path leads after graduation. All current and future graduates of the Biomedical Sciences Program have a fundamental understanding of human biology and have developed competency in personal skills. In the Science of Disparities Concentration, students will expand their knowledge base to build an understanding of social and genetic determinants of health that impact our comprehension and communication of the human health sciences. Further, students will to explore the complications associated with our interpretation and implementation of health sciences. Finally, students will transition into socially responsible scientists by engaging in community projects that facilitate their clear understanding of the impact of their scientific knowledge through a practicum experience using the service-learning pedagogies.Read more about the program design & course sequencing »

Goals of the Program

Current advances in our understanding of human diversity has created a series of multi-dimensional complications that our foundational biomedical science investigations do not address directly. The Science of Disparities concentration will address the societal and genetic differences that impact human health and generate a breadth of knowledge that with promote socially responsible scientists. The foundational knowledge needed to explore these complications will be provided as an introduction to the core concepts around health disparities that foster an in-depth investigation of their impacts on the human body's function.  In pursuit of developing strong humanistic experiences, students will have thoughtful deliberations surrounding social and genetic determinants of health in discussion-based and literature-driven explorations into relevant topics. By ending the concentration curriculum with a service-learning project, we will engage student's meta knowledge and encourage students to foster solutions. Ultimately, this concentration will empower students to actively implement change within their communities.

Learning Outcomes

Outcomes for Foundational Knowledge: 

  • Students will have a wide breadth of knowledge regarding human uniqueness and its impact on biomedical health sciences

Outcomes for Humanistic Knowledge:

  • Students will have an awareness of cultural competency as defined by recognizing cultural biases and their impacts on human science.

Outcomes for Meta Knowledge:

  • Students will gain an understanding of the importance of using their scientific knowledge in creating positive change within their community.

Assessing Concentration of BMD Program Outcomes

BMD Undergraduate Programmatic Outcomes are assessed for Biomedical Sciences Knowledge Breadth, Effective Teamwork, Written/Oral Communication, and Critical Thinking Skills. Because the Science of Health Disparities concentration will be within the BMD Undergraduate Program, it is important to note that these outcomes are already assessed yearly at a programmatic/major level.

Students in this concentration will be assessed on the BMD programmatic learning outcomes plus these additional outcomes listed below.

  1. The NSF Vision and Change guidelines will be used to assess for Physiology and Pathophysiology content knowledge. Specifically, we will assess students using the PHYS-Bio-MAPS Physiology survey. (Phys-MAPS ; Phys-MAPS: a programmatic physiology assessment for introductory and advanced undergraduates, Semsar et. al., 2019) Students' knowledge of Vision and Change Core concepts will increase by greater than 5% in knowledge in all 5 Core Concepts (Evolution, Transformation of Energy and Matter, Structure Function, Information Flow and Systems)  when comparing the same students in a 200 level course as compared to their knowledge at a 400 level course.
  2. A sample size of students in a 100 (or 200) and 400 level course associated with the Science of Health Disparities concentration will be assessed for Cultural Competency. We will utilize the "Intercultural Knowledge and Competence" VALUE rubric from the AAC&U to assess submitted artifacts. (Intercultural Value Rubric )  We will look for increases in Benchmark achievement as they progress throughout the concentration curriculum to determine whether the concentration coursework is increasing student awareness of cultural and societal biases. (Transformative training: Designing programs for culture learning., Bennett, 2008.)
  3. Identify 10 core questions in key science of disparities courses that are assessed annually by courses instructors. Data will be submitted to the BMD undergraduate program director for concentration curriculum effectiveness. Students should score above 70% on these selected concepts for all concentration designated coursework.
  4. A sample size of students in a 100 (or 200) and 400 level course associated with the Science of Health Disparities concentration will be assessed for Civic Engagement. We will assess submitted artifacts for assessment using the Civic Engagement VALUE rubric from the AAC&U.  ( Civic Engagement VALUE Rubric) We will look for differences in Benchmark achievement as they progress throughout the concentration curriculum to determine whether the concentration coursework is influencing students' interest in making a difference in the civic life of our communities.
  5. Civic engagement is defined as actions where individuals participate in activities of personal and public concern that are both individually life enriching and socially beneficial to the community. To further assess student development in Civic Engagement, student reflection papers drafted at the end of their experiences in their community practicum (BMD495: Practicum in Biomedical Sciences) will be assessed. Because the practicum in biomedical sciences (BMD 495) is open to all BMD majors, we expect to use the general BMD curriculum students as a control group to assess the Science of Disparities concentration BMD students learning outcome achievement. Ideally, we will compare the student analysis of their civic engagement's impact on their community documented in their BMD 495 reflection papers from students who have been through the Science of Disparities concentration to those students who have only completed the general BMD curriculum.  We will compare their ability to access humanistic and meta knowledge, including but not limited to: discussing healthcare disparities in their experience, identifying gaps in healthcare with different populations and their role in making positive change.

Concentration Course Map

Our Science of Disparities concentration will contain six BMD major courses that will serve as the scientific & professional foundational knowledge for this concentration. (These will include four BMD science-intensive courses and two BMD writing/professional development courses.)  Students will then complete four concentration specific courses that focus on the foundational knowledge needed to understand health disparities from both a scientific and humanistic perspective, the humanistic skill sets to facilitate open deliberations in identifying health disparities and the culminating meta experience that provides students the opportunity to engage their community.  Read more about the course sequence »