The United Health Foundation, a national nonprofit recently awarded scholarships to three local college students to help them pursue careers in health care.

Andrea Leiva, Awawu Ojikutu and Alice Yotat were all recipients of the Foundation’s Diverse Scholars Initiative, according to a news release.

Leiva, of Silver Spring, Md. plans to make a positive impact on the future health care workforce through her passion for neurobiology. The Montgomery College sophomore plans to obtain a doctorate in neuroscience or neurobiology to provide healthcare solutions for local and global communities through her unique insights into the study of the brain. The United Health Foundation Diverse Scholars Initiative has helped the Silver Spring, Md. resident take her first step in achieving her goal by enabling her to become an intern at a local hospital.

“I learned a lot about my undiscovered interests and realized so many things about myself,” Levia said in a statement. “My internship experience reinforced my thoughts about my science and health care career goals.”

Ojikutu recently graduated from Howard University with a B.S. in nursing and is currently working towards her goal to become a nurse practitioner. She is a resident of Hyattsville, Md. and is a member of The Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. Ojikutu plans to eventually earn a master’s degree in nursing and business, and one day open a health center for the underprivileged in Chicago.

“United Health Foundation Diverse Scholars helped me reach my goals by awarding me a scholarship to pay my remaining balance at school,” Ojikutu said in a statement. “The scholarship relieved the stress and burden of wondering where I would get the money to pay for my last year at Howard University.”

An aspiring emergency room nurse, Alice Yotat has overcome cultural and financial setbacks while pursuing a future career in health care. The native of Cameroon began her higher education at Prince George’s Community College and transferred to Howard University to continue her nursing studies. Yotat resides in Washington, D.C. and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

United Health Foundation’s Diverse Scholars Initiative, through its partner organizations, is awarding more than $1.2 million in scholarships this year to more than 200 students from diverse, multicultural backgrounds. This is part of the Foundation’s ongoing commitment to build a more diverse health care workforce.

Over the past five years, United Health Foundation has awarded nearly 1,000 scholarships, totaling more than $5 million, to students throughout the country. Nine scholarships have been awarded in the Washington, D.C. area since 2007.

“We know patients do best when they are treated by people who understand their language and culture,” Kate Rubin, president, United Health Foundation said in a statement. “United Health Foundation is grateful for the opportunity to help support these outstanding students who are demonstrating impressive purpose and passion, and who will help lead the way to better health access and outcomes.”

During this year’s Diverse Scholars Forum, which took place June 26-28 in Washington, D.C., Leiva, Ojikutu and Yotat heard from a range of speakers, including U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, Washington Post Columnist Jonathan Capehart, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration Secretary Mary Wakefield and UnitedHealth Group Executive Vice President Tony Welters. In addition, the students attended a congressional reception where they were able to interact with members of Congress, and their staffers and leaders from a variety of health care fields.

In conjunction with the Diverse Scholars Forum, United Health Foundation released new research that revealed minority students pursuing health careers are far more motivated by a desire to serve their community than by potential financial rewards.

When asked what their single most important motivation to pursue a health career, 46 percent of minority scholars cited having a positive impact on people’s lives as their top reason for pursuing a health career. Only 17 percent cited salary or income.

Money is not a primary motivation for these students; however it is a primary source of stress and discouragement. Of those polled, 98 percent said financial hurdles are a significant barrier to achieving their education and career goals.

The research, conducted by APCO Insight and funded by United Health Foundation, polled about 500 minority students pursuing health careers. More than 60 percent of respondents said there are not enough minority health professionals. One in four said they had never been treated by a health professional of the same or similar racial or ethnic background as themselves. Nearly 90 percent said they are interested in working to serve a community with the same or similar racial or ethnic background as themselves.

For more information about the research and the Diverse Scholars Initiative, visit www.unitedhealthfoundation.org/dsi.html