In 2005, Cheryl Avants, clinical pharmacist for national accounts at Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, went to great heights to provide an education for African children left orphaned by AIDS.
She and her husband, Bill Nowlins, a doctor at Arkansas Surgical Hospital, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, as a fundraiser for a program they helped run, Global Alliance for Africa’s Nurses for Africa program.
The program provided scholarships for children in Tanzania who were left orphaned by AIDS to attend college and eventually go back to their homes to provide medical care as nurses.
“This is where my interest in education stemmed,” Avants said. “This is when I realized that education was a vital concern for everyone, and that civilization does not advance if we don’t educate our members.”
Avants has been active in the Little Rock community, volunteering at organizations like Easterseals Arkansas, American Cancer Society, and the Single Parent Scholarship Program. She now spends most of her time volunteering to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.
Avants is giving back by serving on the newly formed Science Dean’s Council at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Council members advocate on behalf of the UA Little Rock College of Arts, Letters, and Sciences and garner community support for science programs. Their efforts include raising funds for faculty and undergraduate research, the Fribourgh Award receptions, and the Science Olympiad.
“I think that STEM education provides a lot of opportunities,” she said. “Having a science background opens the door to a lot of different careers, whether it’s agriculture or healthcare or technology.”
In 2010, Avants started serving on the Dean’s Council for the UA Little Rock College of Science and Math. She also serves on the Science Olympiad Committee, a nationwide organization dedicated to promoting science education through competitive science tournaments.
Avants earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She started her career working in pharmaceutical sales and later worked at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, where she helped start pharmacy programs in oncology and neonatal healthcare.
In 2002, Avants, then working as a Health Information Designs account manager, decided to go back to school to learn how she could incorporate business skills with her knowledge of pharmacy and healthcare.
“This is where I first got interested in the data side of healthcare,” Avants said. “I realized I needed more skillsets to broaden my horizon. I wanted to pick up more business skills and learn about how to apply business skills to a healthcare setting.”
So Avants joined the Executive Master of Business Program at UA Little Rock and took weekend classes to finish her degree. Not only did she learn the business skills needed to get ahead, she also started the next step in her career.
“The CIO of UAMS was in my MBA program, and she recruited me to UAMS,” Avants said. “They brought together several software systems, and I was responsible for integrating the pharmacy software into the new system.”
Now Avants is putting all the skills she learned throughout her career and education to work at Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield. In her current position, Avants is responsible for supporting care management nurses, helping them develop programs that improve patients’ lives, and providing expertise for patients in policy and insurance coverage decisions.
“I came to Blue Cross Blue Shield, because this position pulls together everything I have ever done in my career,” Avants said. “The education that I have related to biology and pharmacy and business lets me provide the clinical input to make good, effective policy decisions.”