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Programs News Joseph H Huffstutler February 02, 2018

Caruthers’ unending drive to learn more comes from someone who never had the opportunity to learn more – her mother.

And that is why she has created the Mary Henderson Caruthers Sponsored Scholarship in Biomedical and Health Sciences.

Mary Henderson Caruthers with her daughtersAs a 22-year-old med school student, Kara Caruthers, MSPAS, PA-C, failed anatomy. But that is the last time she failed anything academically.

In her 30s, Caruthers became an alumna of the UAB School of Health Professions’ Physician Assistant Studies program. In her 40s, she is a doctoral candidate in the School’s PhD in Nutrition Sciences program.

Caruthers’ unending drive to learn more comes from someone who never had the opportunity to learn more – her mother.

And that is why she has created the Mary Henderson Caruthers Sponsored Scholarship in Biomedical and Health Sciences.

Mary Henderson Caruthers, who passed away in 2011, only attended one semester of college her entire life. Yet her lifelong focus was to make sure all her daughters understood the importance of attending and graduating college.

In 2017, the Omaha World Herald wrote an article about Caruthers’ father, Henry Caruthers Jr. and he spoke about the educational impact the late Mrs. Caruthers had on Kara and her two sisters. All three Caruthers sisters earned full ride scholarships to college and all three earned advanced degrees.

“I felt the best person to be with our daughters as they were growing up was their mother,” said Henry Caruthers, Jr., Kara’s dad who was married to her mom for 37 years before she passed. “She was a constant visitor to their schools, and together we instilled a love of learning in them. It wasn’t a matter of if they would go to college but which college they would go to.”

Caruthers says one of her earliest education-based memories is when she was three-years-old. Her mother would walk her and her older sister to the library to select books that she would read to them.

“My mother would list the three to five letter words, on a chalkboard that she kept in our room, and review those words with us. While she was prepping my older sister for kindergarten, I was also able to absorb that information, although I wouldn’t enroll in school for another two years,” said Caruthers. “The irony of this is that my mother was not a reader growing up and in turn, struggled with spelling.  This struggle caused her to be placed in special education courses as a freshman in high school, because it was assumed that she did not have the academic competence to succeed in the standard academic courses. She did not want my sisters and I to be discounted in that way and thus instilled a love of reading and learning into her three girls. She consistently advocated for us throughout our K-12 experience and would challenge any teacher or counselor who attempted to be dismissive of our academic competence and capabilities. You can say that I get me tenacity from her!”

Caruthers PA CoverAAPA cover story about CaruthersCaruthers’ gift to the UAB School of Health Professions’ Master of Science in Biomedical Health Sciences program honoring her mother’s passion (and tenacity) for learning and higher education is fitting in many ways.

You could easily call Caruthers the “Mother” of the program as she was named an inaugural co-director when the program was established in 2015. Plus, the Biomedical and Health Sciences program, the only 11-month master’s program of its kind in the Southeast, is designed to help students improve their PCAT, MCAT, DAT or OAT scores as well as boost their skills in the classroom and the laboratory – skills that Caruthers recognizes would have helped her greatly at the age of 22.

“Due to the academic challenges and failures that I experienced, I wanted to ensure that the students in BHS always felt that they had our support – I never want a student to feel as they though they are not valued and do not belong in health care,” said Caruthers. “Often, it is lack of exposure to the variety of health career options and guidance on how to navigate the path to that career, which hinders students from success. I was excited to have been part of the development of this program and to witness the accomplishments of the 1st and 2nd cohort of the program that has students in medical school, dental school, as well as PA programs across the country, from UCLA on the west coast, to Tufts University and Howard University on the east coast.”

Caruthers also points out that many of the BHS students shared how the structure and content of the program prepared them for the rigors of their current graduate health professional program. It is the input of the generations before that will only strengthen the program for the generations that follow.

“I anticipate that as the program continues to reach out to first generation college students, rural students, economically and educationally disadvantaged students, as well as students in groups that are underrepresented in medical/health fields, and assist them in shoring up their academic foundation, this legacy of success in the Biomedical Health Sciences program will continue,” said Caruthers.

“The graduates of this program will go on to play critical roles in health care and Kara’s gift will help eliminate distractions and allow them to focus on learning the skills that can save lives,” said Janelle Chiasera, Ph.D., chair, Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences and senior executive associate dean, School of Health Professions. “During her tenure at UAB, Kara always set strong examples for her students and colleagues and this gift further illustrates her kindness, her generosity and her desire to improve the lives of others.”

Kara CaruthersCaruthers with her Birmingham NAACP Wow! AwardCaruthers’ gift will provide support to students who struggle with the affordability of earning an advanced degree. During her years as a faculty member in the UAB Physician Assistant Studies program and Biomedical Health Sciences program she saw many students endure hardships with housing or with food or with bills and she is determined to help as many of them as she can for years to come.

“While serving as the co-program director for the BHS program, as well as through participation in various community outreach activities, it became apparent that external distractors impede students’ success rather than the lack of academic competence,” said Caruthers. “One of the biggest distractors are financial challenges. In creating this scholarship, not only am I able to honor my mother, but also I want students to know that despite the challenges, hurdles and roadblocks they WILL face, they can overcome. There are people who believe in them and want to champion their success. My hope is that this scholarship helps students continue on their path to greatness.”

And she will do all this in the name of the one woman who endured so much so that Caruthers and her sisters would not have to struggle themselves – her mother, Mary Henderson Caruthers.

“My mother always encouraged me to do my best, do what is right, and to stand up for what I believe in and the development of this scholarship allows me to do all three,” said Caruthers.

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