Chinenye Anyanwu, School of Pharmacy
I am an African-American, or more specifically, a Nigerian-American. My six siblings and I are U.S. citizens, but our parents were born and raised in Nigeria, where most of my relatives still live. My background is diverse and so too is Parkchester, the neighborhood where I grew up. Located in the Bronx, NY, Parkchester is home to various ethnic groups: Hispanics, Indians, Africans, Asians, and people from the Caribbean area are among its residents. These same demographics made up the student body of my elementary and high schools. The transition to UConn in the fall of 2003 was difficult. The increased course load, coupled with adjustment to a rural environment and small minority community made me consider a transfer elsewhere. I changed my mind once I was introduced to the Student National Pharmaceutical Association; an association centered on community service and underserved populations. The Association also is dedicated to the recruitment and retention of minority students in healthcare professions. I was drawn to this organization for its family environment and ability to open doors for me. Another relevant factor for me was the UST. It is one of the few Connecticut programs that recognizes the importance of serving ALL people, including those who are underrepresented and disadvantaged, while tackling the issue of improved education for the healthcare professionals who will provide that service.
Jessica Arter, School of Nursing
I grew up and live in Hartford, CT, and am a graduate of the Sports and Medical Science Academy, a magnet school. I am the first member of my immediate family to pursue a college degree in nursing. Even though I have not had much clinical experience or firsthand knowledge of the field of nursing, I am leaning toward becoming a pediatric nurse. I would like to work with children, especially from communities like Hartford, who have terminal illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and sickle cell anemia. As a high school student, I was fortunate to participate in the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Program and the Sports and Medical Science Academy, giving me exposure to a number of health care settings and agencies. Consequently, I volunteered at Hartford Hospital, and visited the UConn Migrant Farm Worker Clinic and the Connecticut Children's Medical Center.
Cheryl Bilinski, School of Medicine
The excitement, enrichment and challenges associated with working in a diverse environment first surfaced for me when I worked as an elementary school teacher in France’s Franche-Comte region for two years after college. Unlike my own childhood experience, my African, Western and Eastern European students had been exposed to unimaginable traumas: war, violence, starvation, and disease. I began to research their native countries and discovered that a large percentage of children under age five die from such curable afflictions as malnutrition, diarrhea, and tuberculosis. Teaching English was empowering, but it was not enough. Medicine, I decided, would be the route toward helping people such as my students and their families attain and maintain health. That goal was solidified upon returning to the United States, where I have taught in urban areas and volunteered at the Burgdorf and Migrant Farm Workers clinics. It is deplorable to me that a country as wealthy as our own does not provide equal access to healthcare. Medical care is a human right, not a privilege to be allotted to an elite few. Through my medical practice and through policy changes, I will endeavor to change that. The UST, I believe, will round out my medical and public health education, and give me the tools necessary to educate and raise awareness of these inequities. I am uncertain whether I will work in this country or abroad, but know I will take steps toward making a difference.
Lisa DiFedele, MPH, School of Medicine
After earning an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Molecular Biology at the University of Colorado, I worked for a number of years, first as a veterinary assistant and then conducting research in the areas of gastroenterology and infectious disease. A desire to merge all of my interests steered me toward Yale and a Master’s Degree in Public Health with a focus on Infectious Disease Epidemiology. There, my interest in medicine flourished and my desire to become a clinician crystallized. During my Yale studies, I worked abroad in health centers located in impoverished communities. Examples include an outreach project in a small fishing community of coastal El Salvador, and research into intestinal helminth immunoepidemiology in Peru and Guatemala. Working alongside doctors with great clinical skills in resource-poor settings, I realized that while compassionate clinicians are in short supply in underdeveloped countries, there is also a great need in our country. I hope to combine my public health and clinical training to offer not just cures, but prevention as well. My expectation is that the UST will teach me even more about the issues and complexities inherent in advocating for both underserved communities and the individuals they support.
Jessie Dorne, School of Medicine
A New Milford, Connecticut native, I graduated from the University of Richmond with a degree in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. There, I joined an organization known as Women Involved in Living and Learning (WILL), which combined coursework and activism. WILL literally transformed my approach to my desired career. In an internship, I volunteered at a domestic violence shelter and became enlightened about the lifestyle of poor women of color. I later trained as a sexual and domestic violence counselor, and served as an evening residential manager at a domestic violence shelter. Through my formal education focusing on diversity, and my experience with women in the shelter, I have broadened my aspirations as a physician to include service to urban, underserved communities. I hope that the UST challenges my perspectives, encourages further growth and reflection, and continues to foster and enrich my passion for serving urban populations.
Graham Garber, School of Dental Medicine
I am in my first year of the D.M.D. curriculum after spending the last four years performing research on the genetics of aging at the UConn graduate school. I recently joined the UConn D.M.D./Ph.D. program and will graduate in four years with both a Ph.D. in Biomedical Science and a D.M.D. I am certainly looking forward to the day that I can put these degrees to use so I can help better the medical and dental care of underserved communities. During my childhood, I lived in both an urban and a rural community. I grew up in a working class residential neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, and then moved to a very rural community in Northern Vermont to attend high school. While growing up in those vastly different communities I became aware of one common denominator: many families and individuals cannot afford necessary healthcare. In the UST, I look forward to learning more about community healthcare needs in Connecticut. I am joining the UST with previous experience in medical research science but with no prior experience as a medical clinician. With my seven-year background in medical science, and with the experiences I hope to gain as part of my UConn Dental education, I will strive to make medical research more accessible to clinicians and healthcare more accessible to communities and people that need it.
Sarah Hooker, School of Pharmacy
I am a fifth-year pharmacy student who was born in San Antonio, Texas and raised in Connecticut. Recently commissioned into the U.S. Air Force, I will serve as a pharmacist for three years after graduation. This excites me because of opportunities to discover the world, meet new people and gain leadership skills. At present, my goals are to become a leader of an urban ambulatory care clinic or to work for the government in healthcare. My interests are always changing, but I have experience working in pediatric pharmacy research and as a pharmacy technician at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford. The UST ties into my career ambitions because one of my principal interests is community service. Not long ago, I spent a week with the homeless and hungry in Washington D.C as part of an Urban Plunge. We learned directly from those affected the difficulties of being poor or homeless. The time I spent at a soup kitchen health clinic heightened my desire to serve in a greater capacity. The UST will enhance my personal development as I learn from students in other health professions. This training will help throughout my career, wherever life takes me. I look forward to the learning opportunity that awaits us in serving together for our community.
Jennifer Jaskolka, School of Dental Medicine
Following my childhood in New Milford, CT, I moved to Northern Vermont where I spent the last ten years. After graduating from the University of Vermont, I worked in a developmental neuroscience lab. I also was involved in many community activities, including work in the community dental clinic. That experience helped shape my career goal to become a dentist in a community healthcare setting. I understand that healthcare goes beyond the clinic chair. Therefore, it is important to me to organize and participate in community outreach programs as a tool to educate on preventative healthcare. With the UST, I will gain greater insight into underserved populations and learn from professionals representing an array of healthcare fields. I believe all aspects of health are closely related and that there should not be strict separations of healthcare disciplines. Through the UST, I am looking forward to learning more about bridging these gaps to improve the overall health of underserved populations.
Ana Martinez, School of Pharmacy
I am a second-year pharmacy student of Columbian descent who is originally from Queens Village, NY. I was attracted to UConn because of its school of pharmacy and was delighted to be accepted into it in the spring of 2006. I hope to graduate with a pharmacy degree to become a clinical pharmacist. I anticipate doing one residency beyond graduation. I want to become a clinical pharmacist to have more on-on-one interaction with patients and other health care professionals. I have found that the patients who most need greater individual attention are those living in underserved communities. Yet, it is my belief that there are an inadequate number of healthcare professionals dedicating themselves to those communities. I have had the privilege of interning at the Institute for Community Research as part of UST’s summer internship program. As a result, I gained exposure to the issues of underserved patients, and engaged in interdisciplinary teamwork with two fellow interns. I want to make a difference and the UST will certainly assist me in that goal.
Seth Matton, School of Dental Medicine
Daniel Morris, School of Medicine
As a first-year School of Medicine student, I am excited to have the opportunity to contribute to and participate in the UST. I grew up in the small city of Kalamazoo, Michigan and moved to East Lyme, CT for high school. I next ventured to Brown University, where I earned a degree in chemical engineering. At Brown, in collaboration with the non-profit organization, Youth in Action, I helped develop a math and science tutoring program for disadvantaged Providence, RI high school students. The greatest strengths of the UST program are two-fold: it offers opportunities to learn about other healthcare disciplines, and it provides information on how to work together to solve urban healthcare problems. The problem-solving and analytical thinking skills that I developed during my engineering studies will be valuable as we work on creative and meaningful solutions. I approach my experiences with the UST program and medical school with an open mind and lots of enthusiasm.
Kara O'Brien, RN, School of Nursing
I am a registered nurse originally from East Lyme, CT, and a proud graduate of The Catholic University of America’s School of Nursing in Washington, DC. While an undergraduate, I was introduced to the inspirational work of Dr. Paul Farmer, a physician and medical anthropologist. His writings are an unabating reminder of the importance of social justice, especially in regards to health care. Since graduating, I have spent close to five years working in various hospital systems, including Hartford Hospital, CT, INOVA Fairfax Hospital, VA, and William W. Backus Hospital, Norwich, CT, with clinical foci in cardiac and medical/surgical intensive care. These professional experiences helped stimulate in me the drive to further my education and pursue a Master’s degree in Nursing with a focus on adult primary care at UConn. My aspiration to work with underserved populations is being realized through UConn’s Urban Service Track (UST) program. Through UST, I was privileged to participate in a summer internship at the Institute for Community Research and the Migrant Farm Worker Clinics. My clinical rotations for practicum are at two Charter Oak Medical Center clinic locations, one of which is inside a homeless shelter. Both are well-utilized by medically under- and uninsured people with a myriad of physical, medical, psychosocial and emotional needs. As a consequence of my UST participation, my interest in working with the underserved, and my previous internship experience, Ialso have been asked to assist on a newly-approved HIV-focused research project through UConn’s School of Nursing, which I accepted without hesitation. In addition to and congruent with becoming an adept practitioner, I intend to continue my education for a post-graduate Doctor of Nursing Practice, and possibly a PhD, in order to better advocate for the needs, rights and benefits of underserved populations.
Kevon Rennie, School of Dental Medicine
Growing up in the Caribbean, I saw first hand many of the health care and policy issues that plague the rest of the developing world but this allowed me to see dentistry as a way to help others. I received my Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry at Florida A&M University, but College was a difficult adjustment academically and socially. To help with my adjustment to college, I participated in numerous mentoring, tutoring and community programs. Working in the community inspired me as I was able to see a real need that I could be the one to fill it. Though I have entered a totally different world at UCHC, I feel at home with UST as I am interacting with dynamic people and getting hands on experience which has expanded my world view as I have been introduced to policy, planning and more leadership opportunities.
Abdullah Wardak, School of Pharmacy
My name is Abdullah Wardak and I am a pharmacy student in my third professional year. I serve as the UConn chapter president for the American Pharmacist Association’s Academy of Student Pharmacists. My goal is to complete my pharmacy degree and use it in a setting where I can actively help people. UST provides a great opportunity for me to give back to underserved communities, and improve my awareness of the healthcare issues with which they contend. I believe I bring leadership and life experiences to the program, and am always willing to share them. I look forward to working as a team with other professions in advancing patient care.
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