Fast 15: Marissa Spear

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 1,206 views 

Class of 2023 Marissa Spear Research Evaluator; Office of Community Health and Research University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Springdale

Marissa Spear readily admits her job title may sound foreboding.

“Evaluation can be a scary word for people,” she quipped.

But as a public health advocate with the UAMS Office of Community Health and Research (CHR), whose mission is to reduce health disparities and prevent chronic disease throughout the region, the goal of evaluation is to ensure that research and programs serve communities’ needs the best they can.

“It may be cheesy to say, but [CHR] is a special place,” she said. “It makes me want to go to work every day when people are motivated by the same things.”

A Bentonville High graduate, Spear earned a bachelor’s degree in health equity studies with a minor in public health from Goucher (Md.) College in the Baltimore suburbs. She was attracted to the private liberal arts college for its peace studies program and the requirement that all undergrads spend time studying abroad.

After graduating in 2018, Spear returned to Northwest Arkansas. She worked as a museum evaluator with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, gathering feedback on museum patrons.

Since joining UAMS four years ago, Spear has earned three promotions and now works in the CHR’s Center for Community Engaged Evaluation. She works closely with faculty, program staff, nonprofit leaders and community members to design and implement internal and external evaluations.

She is the lead evaluator for multiple projects, including a collaborative effort to address food insecurity in Northwest Arkansas.

Colleagues say Spear has become so skilled at developing trusting and authentic relationships with diverse stakeholders that she is often explicitly requested to staff different evaluations.

With expertise in qualitative research methods, Spear is one of two trainers in her office responsible for ensuring all staff who interact with clients to collect evaluation or research data through focus groups or interviews receive rigorous training on best practices.

Spear is also a writer in her spare time. She is a disabled writer and firmly believes that chronically ill and disabled individuals are the experts of their bodies and should be able to tell their own stories. She earned a graduate certificate in narrative medicine from Columbia University in New York City to bolster that philosophy.