Health Sciences and Technology Academy (HSTA) recently celebrated 25 years of operation, during which the program graduated nearly 3,000 West Virginia students.

To celebrate a quarter-century of successes, an invitation-only event was held Nov. 18 in Flatwoods for regional HSTA representatives, higher education and school board representatives, as well as state lawmakers.

During the event, three HSTA alums shared their experiences — Dr. Jason Evans, a WVU faculty member and cancer biologist; Mya Vannoy, a WVU senior majoring in immunology and medical microbiology; and Markayla King, a student currently in HSTA who has helped conduct water quality research in Minden.

“We have a model for the nation to promote brain gain instead of a brain drain from our rural and under-resourced areas,” said Ann Chester, Ph.D., director of HSTA and assistant vice president of education partnerships for WVU’s Health Sciences Center.

HSTA connects with high school students who are from backgrounds underrepresented in college, to encourage them to pursue STEM and health science degrees. WVU serves as the HSTA backbone for the collective impact of the state-supported colleges and universities, partnering with K-12 schools and community organizations in 26 counties.

Sandra Pope, co-chair of HSTA’s state joint governing board, said it’s great to see how everyone comes together to ensure HSTA students have the best opportunities to succeed.

“Team HSTA should be very proud of the roles we play in the lives of these awesome and unique young people that we touch,” Pope said.

Those young people, without mentoring, would likely fall out of the system, Chester said. But with the help of HSTA, the students are engaging in their communities and solving problems.

This year, roughly 750 students from 26 counties participated. Eventually, Chester hopes HSTA can become a statewide endeavor, with representation from all 55 counties. The HSTA statewide Joint Governing Board encourages state legislators to consider an additional $1 million allocation to the program — which, she says, is ultimately an investment in the state.

“(HSTA graduates) stay in West Virginia to problem solve,” Chester said. “This is home. They stay here and make a difference.”

Markayla King addresses attendees Monday at the HSTA celebration in Flatwoods.