Richard Lichtenstein, Founding Faculty Director

Richard Lichtenstein is the S. J. Axelrod Collegiate Professor of Health Management and Policy at the UM School of Public Health. He earned his B.S. at Cornell University (industrial and labor relations) and his MPH and PhD at the University of Michigan (medical care organization). He taught courses about the US health care system at UM from 1975 to 2016. As part of his interest in increasing the diversity of the health care workforce, Dr. Lichtenstein founded the UM SEP and served as its director from 1986-2016. Another of his research interests is access to care for low income and uninsured populations, especially children. He is the co-principal investigator of the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center (URC), which uses community-based, participatory research to foster health equity in Detroit. He also sits on the Boards of Directors of the Neighborhood Service Organization in Detroit and the Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti, MI. Finally, he is a trustee of three Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Associations (VEBAs), which provide health benefits to groups of retirees.


The idea for the UMSEP came to its founder, Dr. Richard Lichtenstein, in 1985. While teaching a graduate course on the United States health care system, Dr. Lichtenstein pointed out that people of color were inadequately represented in the fields of medicine, dentistry, nursing, and other health fields, and argued that we might make better progress in eliminating growing racial and ethnic disparities in health if there were more providers who were African-American, Native-American, and Hispanic. It also occurred to Dr. Lichtenstein that the School of Public Health was not that much more diverse than the classes preparing students for medicine or dentistry, and he became convinced that the Department of Health Management and Policy could at least alter the composition of its own students. Relying in part on the broad design of a summer program run in Washington D.C. during the 1970s and 80s by the Association of University Programs in Health Administration, he developed the Summer Placement Opportunity Program (later to be renamed the Summer Enrichment Program). The aim would be to prepare undergraduate students of color for graduate study by providing internship experience in healthcare settings.

In January 1986, Dr. Lichtenstein began calling the leaders of healthcare organizations in Detroit and Arbor to generate interest and support, and was able to secure 13 paid internships for the following summer. He put together an application and began publicizing at the University of Michigan and other nearby colleges and universities. There was no money for housing or transportation, so the first cohort consisted of thirteen UM undergraduates. In other ways, the 1986 program was identical to its modern-day successor, with internships from Monday to Thursday and site visits to various healthcare organizations on Friday afternoons.


In 1988, after a commitment of $20,000 from Dr. Tom Bruce, then the Director of Health Programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, MI, the UMSEP began to expand its programming. It started providing on-campus housing, transportation, a small food stipend, and a preparation course for the GRE – a crucial component of graduate school admissions for many of the participants. By securing additional funds from the larger placement sites, the program was able to place other students in grassroots organizations that could not otherwise afford to pay for an intern. Finally, the newly renamed Summer Enrichment Program began to recruit participants from across the country. These changes enhanced the UMSEP's national reputation and established the framework that is still used today.

After Michigan voters approved an amendment to the state constitution in 2007 that banned all race-based programs on campus, the UMSEP expanded eligibility to include all students committed to eliminating health disparities. This change led to a broader racial composition of participants, but the program continues to attract a very high percentage of students of color.

In 2024, UMSEP was rebranded as the Summer Enrichement Program in Health Equity and Leadership Training in Healthcare and Public Health (SEP-HEALTHSpark). SEP-HEALTHSpark maintains the same goals as SEP, but includes new activities to emphasize health equity in a changing healthcare and public health sector.


Since its founding, more than 600 students have launched their careers through the UM SEP. As of 2011, 92% of program participants had gone on to graduate study, 70% of them in Public Health. UM SEP alumni have become leaders in the health field: at least 8 have become hospital CEOs with many others holding senior administrative positions; several work in policy roles and helped to implement the Affordable Care Act (ACA); and others have achieved success in local and state health departments, in Federally Qualified Health Centers, and in major insurance companies. At least 20 alumni have earned doctoral degrees and through their teaching ensure that the UM SEP's lessons reach an even broader audience. One of them, Ebbin Dotson, was Director of the UM SEP when Dr. Lichtenstein retired in 2016 until 2023.

The following articles detail the results of alumni surveys conducted after 15 years (2001) and 25 years (2011) of the UM SEP: