Annie Abbate, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born and raised in East Hampton, CT. I earned my BS in Biology from Elmira College and my MPH in Global Infectious Diseases from Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.
In the months before matriculating at UConn, I interned for several months at HIPS, a harm reduction facility in Washington DC. At HIPS, I conducted syringe exchanges and distributed safe sex supplies for HIPS client population, which is predominantly composed of HIV-positive transgender sex workers and injection drug users. I have also gone on humanitarian missions in Pakistan, Haiti, the Philippines, and, most recently, I was deployed with the Ebola Response in Sierra Leone for five months. Prior to that, I was an epidemiology graduate research assistant at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for two years while I completed my MPH at Emory University.
I applied to UST because I am committed to social justice in medicine and to providing high quality healthcare to underserved populations in my home state of Connecticut.
Omar Allam, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born in Montreal, Canada and grew up in Manchester, CT. I obtained a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the University of Connecticut, where I was recognized as a University Scholar and was named as a Top Graduating Chemist in the CT Valley Region by the American Chemical Society. In addition to my academic achievements, I have previously worked as a volunteer EMT and in food recovery at the Covenant Soup Kitchen.
I want to learn how to be a physician invested in more than the bodily health of his patients, one who is able to interact with the patient-as-human-being and his/her social context, and not be limited just to the immediate disease. The Urban Service track (UST) is my first step in training to become such a physician, one that I believe is able to reform the current healthcare system. More generally, I know that quality medical care can one day be provided to individuals of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. With the extensive understanding of medicine I hope to gain from my education, I plan to be at the forefront of this medico-social reform that is committed to serving Connecticut's urban underserved populations. UST will play a central role in this education, by providing me with experience serving underserved communities from my first day in the program to the day I graduate.
Maisey Ayer, School of Nursing, Class of 2018
I am a student at the University of Connecticut’s School of Nursing. I grew up in Southington, CT, and attended Mercy High School in Middletown, CT.
I have been on three mission trips to Haiti and to Mexico, where I worked in an orphanage and in an elderly home, respectively. The need for love, affirmation, and comfort that I saw and felt through these experiences solidified my desire to become a nurse. I now work as a Personal Care Associate in a homecare setting for geriatric patients and for a young boy with a seizure disorder, two very different settings with very similar needs for love. It is a privilege to assist my patients at some of the most difficult, most embarrassing, and most frustrating times of their lives. In these moments, I have learned that everything has meaning, and that to give care means doing what needs to be done proficiently and efficiently, with my whole being.
The heart of nursing is the ability to care deeply while giving care. The Urban Service Track will build upon my sense of being truly present with my patients, allowing me to become the best possible advocate for them. The challenges and opportunities that will arise are all a part of the journey towards embracing the unique worth and individuality of each patient. I believe this is the single most important part of giving care.
Anastasia Barros, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born in Boston, Massachusetts and raised in Cheshire, Connecticut. I have a BS in Chemistry and a BA in Psychology from Lehigh University.
As part of Alpha Phi Omega at Lehigh University, I organized and participated in community service events on campus and in the community. I tutored ESOL students at Broughal Middle School, a school in an underserved area of Bethlehem. As a patient navigator at the HEARTS Clinic, I attended monthly clinics and patient appointments while focusing on the social side of medicine.
At the HEARTS Clinic I saw first-hand the social barriers people faced in acquiring adequate health care and, as a result, decided I wanted to focus my medical career on helping my patients overcome those barriers and access the health care they needed. When applying to medical schools, I looked for institutions and programs that trained their students in both medical practice and social engagement. The Urban Service Track at the UConn School of Medicine caught my attention as precisely the type of program I was looking for. Participation in the UST will improve my knowledge of and skill in working in settings with limited resources and with populations who lack adequate health care while allowing me to give back to the community. The UST will help me become the physician I planned and plan to become, one best able to help underserved patients and minimize gaps between populations in healthcare access.
Adam Bartholomeo, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born and raised in Watertown, CT. I received Bachelors of Science degrees in Molecular and Cell Biology as well as Physiology and Neurobiology from the University of Connecticut. I later received my Masters of Biotechnology from Johns Hopkins University. During my four years at UConn, I was a leader with the GUARD Dogs (Giving UConn A Responsible Driver) program, which provided safe rides home to students in the community on weekend nights and held education outreach initiatives to teach responsible drinking. My interest for urban service truly began when I went on an alternative spring break trip with a focus on urban healthcare to Philadelphia. The trip gave me a better perspective on the unique issues facing urban health care, which became a driving force in my decision to pursue medicine.
As a medical student, I want to participate in the opportunities offered by the Urban Service Track to gain a broader understanding of the evolving dynamics and the leadership involved in improving the lives of underserved populations and our local urban communities. I am also drawn to the UST’s focus on interdisciplinary team work. I believe the ability to work with others from multiple professional medical disciplines promotes creativity in developing novel, patient-centered solutions to the challenges faced in our urban centers. Additionally, the opportunity to work with a diverse group of health professional will be critical in exploring my future professional identity.
Caitlin Bisaillon, School of Nursing, Class of 2018
I was born in Waterbury, CT, and was raised in the small town of Wolcott, CT. I obtained my high school diploma from Wolcott High School, and am currently on my way to a bachelor’s degree as a UConn nursing student.
I have been volunteering since middle school. Currently, I am involved in a Community Outreach Alternative Break program. We hold weekly meetings to prepare us for a one-week service trip over spring break focused on health care at about eight service sites in Philadelphia. These sites will include MANNA, Inglis House, a nursing home for people with disabilities, and Shriner’s Hospital for Children. MANNA is an organization that provides nutritious meals to citizens and their dependents that have chronic illnesses or do not have access to a dietician.
I am looking forward to being a part of the Urban Service Track community because I believe that health care is a right and should be obtainable, effective and individualized despite a patient's socioeconomic status or other social factors. As a future Registered Nurse, it’s my responsibility to advocate for underserved patients and communities. Optimizing health through education and screenings from a public and per-person standpoint is very important to me as a strategy for preventing many cases of illness. With the opportunity of UST, I know I can make a positive, lasting impact on my future patients' health.
Douglas Buckheit, School of Pharmacy
I was born in Milford, CT and have lived there for my entire life. I have experience working in community pharmacies in multiple areas of southwestern Connecticut, as well as the VA Hospital in West Haven, CT. Both of these experiences have allowed me to serve a variety of patient demographics, furthering my interest in the primary care of underserved populations. I decided to pursue pharmacy as a career after being inspired by community pharmacists who demonstrated the utmost levels of genuine care for their patients’ health.
In the Spring of 2016 I was able to participate in an alternative spring break trip to Hartsville, South Carolina where we partnered with Habitat for Humanity to provide affordable housing to those who need it. Serving less fortunate populations helped increase my motivation to advocate for members of these groups, and increased my awareness of the importance of the interprofessional healthcare team. As healthcare professionals, we must remember that there is much more going on in our patients’ lives than that which falls under our specialty. Whether I end up working in community pharmacy or another area of pharmacy, I look forward to using UST to expand my horizons within pharmacy and to learn more about working on an interprofessional primary healthcare team.
Vincent Buffa, School of Social Work, Class of 2018
I live in Tolland, Connecticut, but I have lived all over the United States, in New Jersey, South Carolina, and Massachusetts. I received a Bachelor’s of Arts from the University of Connecticut with a dual major in Political Science and Human Development and Family Studies.
While I do not have extensive experience volunteering in an urban setting, I have spent two summers interning in Willimantic. During my first summer, I interned at the Willimantic Soup Kitchen where I handled food preparation and helped the manager oversee daily operations. During my second summer in Willimantic, I dedicated my time to the Adult Probation Office, where, as an intern, I wrote warrants, compiled documents, and guided clients through the probation process.
I sought out involvement in the Urban Service Track because I believe medical care is a necessity on par with food, shelter, and water. Medical care, however, is a far less accessible necessity than the other three in the United States. In my experience, social and economic services to improve families’ access to health care are underdeveloped or utterly lacking. I hope to be a part of developing these services, and of ensuring that they are financially accessible to all members of underserved populations.
Celeste Cheung, School of Pharmacy, Class of 2018
I was born in Hong Kong and raised in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. I currently work at an independent pharmacy in Georgetown, Connecticut where one of our responsibilities includes providing and delivering medications to a senior assisted living center. We like to ensure that the elderly there are able to receive their needed medications despite their health condition or other barriers that limit them to do so.
In high school, I was involved in several volunteer organizations such as Best Buddies and Special Olympics which were both aimed at serving those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I believe that those who are fortunate enough to have good health and the ability to do whatever activity they please, should help those who are less fortunate and aren’t as lucky to have the same opportunities.
By being a part of the Urban Service Track, I hope to continue to help and provide for underserved populations while expanding my own skills in primary care. I aim to improve and hopefully make a lasting difference in a community alongside a team of other professionals.
Jamie Choate, School of Nursing, Class of 2018
I was born in New Britain, Connecticut and grew up in Ellington, CT and Glastonbury CT. I am currently working towards my Bachelors of Science degree in Nursing.
In middle school through my junior year of high school, I volunteered as a tutor for Ellington elementary schoolers in grades one through four, helping them with reading, math, and homework. I have fundraised for and participated in Relay for Life since my sophomore year of high school, and have done the same for several walks for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. For 2016-2017 I will be the president of the Healthcare Simulation Society, which fundraises for the simulation labs in the UConn School of Nursing and does healthcare-related volunteer work.
I sought involvement in the Urban Service Track in order to be exposed to a more diverse population of people than I was growing up in small towns with homogenous populations. I think a huge part of being a good nurse or any other kind of healthcare provider is being understanding of and caring to all types of people, regardless of background or other differentiating factors. I also believe that the underserved communities that we give aid to have a lot to give back to the general community of healthcare professionals. Working with the group of talented people at UST is an excellent way to improve my skills in nursing, teamwork, and communication, and to form a supportive network of colleagues who can improve my knowledge of other healthcare disciplines.
Ayesha Clarke, School of Social Work, Class of 2018
Ayesha R. Clarke was born and raised in Hartford and East Hartford but currently resides in Hartford, CT. She is pursing a Masters Degree in Social Work with a concentration in Policy Practice from the University of Connecticut (UCONN) with an expected graduation of 2018. Ayesha has a Masters Degree in Public Health (MPH) from Benedictine University and a Bachelors degree in Economics from the University of Connecticut (UCONN). Ayesha is a member of the Citadel of Love and a member of the Greater Hartford NAACP Branch. She currently serves as a Commissioner for the City of Hartford’s Commissions of Public Health and Addiction. She also, serves on the board of Community Health Resources (CHR) and Blue Hills Civic Association.
Ayesha sought involvement in UST because she wanted to best serve her community with other Health Care Professionals where they can build a relationship and work together to provide the best service for clients. She expects UST will enable her to provide individuals in under deserved areas with the tools on learning their rights in health care and provide health information on protective and preventive skills. Ayesha believes Healthcare is not just fixing a problem but giving the person the tools to be better. In urban communities many do not receive the tools to look beyond their means therefore, Ayesha wants to build a relationship with the community so that she can strengthen their silent voices.
Antea DeMarsilis, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I grew up in North Haven, CT before moving to St. Louis, MO to complete my undergraduate degree in Anthropology with a concentration in Global Health and Environment at Washington University in St. Louis.
In St. Louis, I worked with groups addressing inequity in the city’s food system through nutrition education and affordable food preparation programs. These groups included a student group partnered with local community gardens to increase capacity, community engagement, and produce access, and a neighborhood restoration farmer’s market. I also led a local engagement initiative with a global health equity student group. I later moved to Boston and worked in Leadership Development at Primary Care Progress, an organization teaching grassroots organizing and relationship leadership skills to interprofessional primary care students. I then served with Community HealthCorps at the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program’s primary care clinic at the Pine Street Inn as a case manager and health educator.
I applied to the Urban Service Track to gain experience in and an understanding of how health care providers can empower and advocate with marginalized communities to eliminate systemic barriers to health. I believe that interprofessional teams are the most effective form of health care, and with the Urban Service Track, I hope to study interprofessional medical practice to better understand the perspectives and strengths of my future clinical teammates. Last, I hope to find a support system of peers and mentors who are a bridge between learning in the classroom and in the community.
Kelly DeMeo, School of Nursing, Class of 2018
I was born and raised in Fairfield, Connecticut, where I graduated from Fairfield Ludlowe High School in 2014. I also attended the Bridgeport Regional Aquaculture Science and Technology Education Center. I am working towards a Bachelors of Science degree in Nursing at UConn in Storrs, Connecticut.
I am currently a member of Big Friends, a program associated with UConn Community Outreach, where I volunteer as a mentor for children in Mansfield, Connecticut. The program matches volunteers with children in one-on-one pairings which persist for the volunteer's four years at UConn. I have also worked as a summer camp counselor at Camp Jewell YMCA for three years. There, I have worked with dozens of kids from every type of socioeconomic background.
I sought involvement with the Urban Service Track after very positive experiences working with underprivileged children in my previous capacities as a volunteer. UST will be an opportunity to explore my passion for helping others while moving me towards a successful career in Nursing. I'm confident that with the experience I will gain at UST, I will be able to make a positive impact in my field by working to generalize access to healthcare to people of all backgrounds.
Shyam Desai, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born and raised in East Lyme, CT and graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Health and Human Biology.
At Brown, I participated in several community health initiatives and completed an honors thesis on the interrelationship between asthma, allergic rhinitis, and obesity in urban schoolchildren. After graduating from Brown, I worked for ten months as a member of the Match Corps in Boston, MA, an urban education fellowship focused on tutoring and mentoring within a network of high performing charter schools that serve a broad spectrum of diverse, low-income students. I sought involvement in the Urban Service Track because I believe that it will help me grow into a powerful physician and advocate and become a citizen engaged in his community. I hope to use the skills gained from UST to pursue a career in family medicine and adolescent health, and I ultimately aspire to become a leader in partnering local schools and clinics to promote trauma-informed medical practice and education.
Pratibha Dhakshinamurthy, School of Pharmacy, Class of 2019
I grew up in Stratford, CT but recently moved to Fairfield, CT. Currently, I am an undergraduate in my second professional year in the UConn School of Pharmacy. I am also double majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology.
During my four years at UConn, I was a member of UConn’s Honors Across State Borders (HASB). HASB is an organization that teaches students about social issues that are prevalent in the US, and then takes 55 students on an alternative spring break to work towards alleviating the social issue affecting the area. This past year, I was a co-director for this program. My co-director and I took our students to Hartsville, SC to work with a local Habitat for Humanity. We also introduced the organization’s first ever Fall Trip to Worcester, MA where we spent the day helping with park maintenance. The social issue of environmental conservation was one HASB never focused on too much and we wanted to show our students the importance of free access to parks and trails that are often lost in urban areas. These areas provide fresh air and space and are key to promoting overall health and physical well-being in the community.
I joined UST to continue my passion for helping the underserved special populations live better, healthier lives. I am also looking forward to learning more about working with an interprofessional team. This summer, I started working as a pharmacy intern at Yale New Haven Hospital and I had the opportunity to go on rounds with an interprofessional team. It was a great experience seeing how everyone worked together to make sure the patient was receiving the best care during, as well as after their stay in the hospital. I hope my experiences with UST will help me use what I learned in the classroom out in the field to become an invaluable resource to my patients and to the other members of my team.
Anjali Dinesh, School of Dental Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born in Kerala, India and came to Connecticut at the age of three, which is where I spent the majority of my upbringing. I graduated from the University of Connecticut in May of 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences.
In past years, I’ve regularly volunteered with the American Red Cross and at the Yale-New Haven Hospital. As an undergraduate at UConn, I worked as a dental assistant on a service trip to Honduras to provide healthcare to the underserved population there. I also worked as a Resident Assistant, which allowed me to both pursue and promote education regarding social disparities and activism on a local scale.
As a future healthcare professional, I want to ensure that I become a versatile provider who is capable of understanding and addressing the healthcare needs of underserved populations. I believe the Urban Service Track is an opportunity to meet this goal by furthering my education regarding disparities, working directly with underserved populations, and collaborating with other healthcare professionals of different backgrounds to best understand the needs and complexities of serving those who need it the most.
Thomas Dominguez, Quinnipiac Physician Assistant Program, Class of 2018
I was born and raised in West Babylon, New York. I graduated from SUNY Oneonta with a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Dietetics.
As a dietetic intern at Stony Brook Medicine, I worked at and rotated through health care sites including Women, Infants and Children, HELP Suffolk, and the Head Start Program. At these sites, I mentored students, educated parents and worked with community leaders to build community gardens. As a Registered Dietitian on the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition’s (A.S.P.E.N.) Malnutrition Committee, I reviewed the committee’s final paper on accepting malnutrition as a National Patient Safety Goal that it submitted to the Joint Commission. I also created an algorithm to help practitioners identify malnutrition, and hosted a webinar for participants across the country. Currently, I continue to help raise awareness of malnutrition, specifically in underserved areas where malnutrition is more common and often undiagnosed.
Medically underserved communities often lack the resources and leadership to maintain a system capable of providing optimal healthcare. As an Urban Service Track member, I will learn more of the issues facing medically underserved communities so that I can apply this knowledge to my practice as a primary care physician assistant. Eventually, I hope to work with community leaders to promote free health education at schools and clinics in order to construct sustainable and effective healthcare systems. I believe such community partnerships coupled with medical expertise can prevent diseases from becoming unmanageable and expensive.
Jeremy Figueroa-Ortiz, School of Dental Medicine, Class of 2020
Much of my volunteer work focuses on ending health and education disparities in urban underserved communities, ranging from children to the elderly. Some of my relevant work is my involvement as the President of The Rowe Scholars Program designed to provide opportunities to students from underrepresented backgrounds in the health field. Additionally, my work as President of Kids and UCONN Bridging Education, which is a multicultural mentoring program comprised of 200 people that builds literacy, educational aspirations, and social skills development through one-on-one mentoring with elementary and middle school students from underprivileged communities around Connecticut. Along with these ventures, my interest in health disparities and public health brought me to New York where I was apart of the Public Health Scholars Program. In this program I was challenged through Masters level coursework at Columbia University and field work in urban settings, this work was focused around planning and providing meals to the elderly and home-bound in New York’s five boroughs. Similarly, I was an intern at Institute for Community Research where I worked on Project Good Oral Health in a Senior home located in Central Connecticut to address inequities in dentistry and bridge the gap by providing dental screenings and educating participants on oral health free of charge. Other volunteer work that I have been a part of includes a dental mission trip to The Galapagos Island of Isabella, Migrant Farm Worker Clinics, and Connecticut Mission of Mercy.
I sought investment in UST because I feel that service is an imperative part to being a health care provider. Being a part of an underserved community, I understand first hand how important it is to give back and to engage the communities we aspire to serve in a manner that is culturally appropriate and competent. It has become my goal to minimize the amount of negative events that occur because of a lack of cultural awareness in a clinic. I yearn to be a part of a team that has a common goal—working together to eliminate health disparities and improve public health. Even our smallest of actions can have a monumental effect in another person’s life.
I feel my experiences in providing aide to different urban populations through UST will enlighten me by exposing me to other health professions as well as further educate me of the patients’ perspectives. UST will expose me to new backgrounds that will push my current scope of knowledge to new heights. Becoming culturally competent is a life-long process and by being a part of UST, I will be able to engage with my patients in a unique way that will allow this learning to continue and will help create an atmosphere that encourages patient-provider interactions in my own practice while providing exemplary care. Additionally, through this knowledge that I will acquire, in the future I will be better equipped to work with professionals from different disciples and be apart of a team that will solve some of health care’s most perplexing issues.
Daniel Fitzgerald, School of Dental Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born and raised in Glastonbury, Connecticut and have received a Bachelor of Science in Physiology and Neurobiology from the Honors Program at the University of Connecticut.
I was first introduced to the Urban Service Track after my senior year of high school and have volunteered at the Migrant Farm Worker Clinics each summer since then. I have also been working as a dental assistant at a dentist practice in my hometown during summer and winter breaks from school ever since I ended my freshman year of college. Other volunteer projects that have peaked my interest in the Urban Service Track are Catholic Heart Work Camp in high school, and an alternative winter break trip to Macon, Georgia during the winter of my senior year of college.
I sought involvement in the Urban Service Track because I believe that everyone deserves access to quality health care, and that quality health care stems from increased communication between the disciplines rather that working in isolation. This program will help me to understand what the underserved population is forced to go through on a daily basis, which will give me insight into the best ways to treat them. I think exposure to all different types of patients is pivotal to the education of health care providers because it makes them more equipped to solving problems in the real world.
Chris-Ann Foster, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born in Jamaica and spent a few years in Trinidad before migrating to the U.S where much I lived in central Massachusetts. I graduated with a B.S in Biomedical Sciences from Oakwood University in Huntsville Alabama in 2014.
During the summer of 2011 I volunteered at a small hospital branch at UMASS and worked on clinical outreach in largely Caribbean communities in central Massachusetts. That summer, I learned about many of the challenges immigrant and minority populations face and the need for a fuller understanding for quality healthcare of patient needs through diversity and improved cultural competency. I also learned about the immense need for public service outreach in underserved populations. With this in mind I threw myself into education based community outreach throughout minority communities surrounding Huntsville, Alabama.
It is my goal to learn how to relieve some of the burdens that people in underprivileged communities face, and eventually help to bridge gaps in quality care and health disparities for individuals in minority populations. The Urban Service Track is a space that will allow me to engage with the perspectives of individuals from different training backgrounds and to integrate them in a way that produces the optimal quality of care in spite of the challenges of urban communities.
Salem Harry, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and grew up moving between South Padre Island and Dallas, Texas. After high school, I graduated from Bowdoin College with a B.A. in Chemistry with a minor in English.
Before attending Bowdoin, I explored missionary work in Kenya, where my experiences in rural and urban clinics originated my interest in health care. Throughout my college years a growing interest in public health and critical race theory led me to volunteer with the Southern Appalachian Labor School in rural West Virginia and later a primary care clinic in Kansas City. After college I worked in higher education as an admission officer at Connecticut College in New London to more closely explore and wrestle with complex issues of access and systemic oppression in the field of education.
Being the son of a migrant worker has tremendously affected the lens through which I view life and privilege. The incredible fortitude of my family to endure the hardship of labor-intensive seasonal work has built within me a strong sense of responsibility to advocate and care for the underprivileged and the marginalized. Having partnered with community-based organizations in my professional work and supported education in underserved urban communities around the United States, I have seen the power of interprofessional collaboration to change communities by providing exceptional service and new opportunity. I am eager to get to work in the Greater Hartford area and learn the functionality of partnerships between different health disciplines. I believe that the Urban Service Track will equip me with the skills, mentorship, and exposure necessary to make a tangible impact where the need for patient care is highest.
Lucy Hopko, Quinnipiac Physician Assistant Program, Class of 2018
I was born in Huntington Long Island NY, and moved to Terryville, CT at age six, where I have lived since. I graduated from Quinnipiac University in 2012 with a degree in Health Sciences-PA and a double minor in Spanish and Global Public Health.
I have volunteered throughout Connecticut, including at the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where I assisted both children and their families during long stays in the ICU. I have also spent time in Anchorage Alaska where I helped provide meals to children through an organization called Kid’s Kitchen. I spent June 2014 in Puyo, Ecuador where I learned about healthcare in rural areas and the intersections between traditional medicine and modern healthcare. My stay in Puyo demonstrated to me that what I consider normal may seem utterly foreign to people in other communities. It also taught me about the disparity in quality of healthcare and access to primary care between better-served and underserved populations.
I am interested in the Urban Service Track because it teaches future healthcare providers ways of practicing medicine in underserved populations that may not be covered by a normal medical curriculum. I also believe that the best way to provide optimized healthcare involves being familiar with the populations of one’s patients, and that the best way I can gain this practical familiarity is by joining UST and learning from its interdisciplinary instructors.
Emily Isch, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born in Bristol, CT and lived in New Britain, CT for about three years, after which I moved to nearby Tolland, CT. After graduating from Tolland High School I attended Sacred Heart University, where I graduated with a B.S. in Biology in December of 2014.
My passion for urban healthcare developed through more than 5,000 hours working as a medical scribe in the emergency departments of three hospitals in Connecticut. In my time as a scribe, I assimilated into the healthcare culture of the Waterbury community, which sparked my interest in service and guidance for the underserved. I witnessed many positive health outcomes for patients thanks to education by diligent healthcare providers, as well as negative health outcomes due to healthcare disparities. I intend to pursue reform and study the implementation of this critical education in public health.
The Urban Service Track will help me learn how to best serve the medical needs of the underserved, so that my passion for public health can flourish while I have the opportunity to work with professionals with similar goals. While I have yet to determine the particular specialty I intend to pursue following graduation, I plan to integrate my passion for public health with my eventual choice, whatever it may be. The UST will be a vital part of accomplishing my goal of graduating from the UConn School of Medicine with a concurrent Master of Public Health.
Divya Iyer, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was Born in Battle Creek, Michigan and raised in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. I am a graduate of the University of Connecticut Honors Program with a B.S. in Structural Biology & Biophysics and minor in Diversity Studies in American Culture.
I seek to join the Urban Service Track primarily because of my involvement with the UConn Migrant Farm Worker Clinic and my 2015-16 AmeriCorps Year of Service. In my five years of volunteering and leadership with the Migrant Farm Worker clinic, I witnessed many of the consequences of the health disparities that exist in Connecticut. I also learned the importance and advantage of collaborating with providers from many healthcare disciplines in providing patients with the best care. My service with the clinic inspired me to work as a teacher and mentor through AmeriCorps New York City. I worked with 8th grade students from underserved communities and learned more about how healthcare and education are integral to ending major health issues facing our society today.
As a member of Urban Service Track, I will gain a greater understanding of how policy, economics, and society come together to create inequalities in the American health care system. Using this knowledge, I hope to collaborate with members of the UST community to understand and address issues with access to care in my home state. UST will help me gain the skills to become a sensitive, collaborative and impactful physician in the urban communities I will serve in the future.
Emily Keller, School of Dental Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born and raised in Williston, Vermont. I went to the University of Vermont and obtained my BS in Molecular Genetics with a minor in Spanish.
I have worked for a child sponsorship program for 5 years and run a fluoride treatment program with them serving 300 children annually. I am the co-founder/co-director of a 501c3 nonprofit that serves as a feeding program and provides medical assistance and crisis management in rural Guatemala. We have over 40 local Guatemala volunteers. I have also worked in an orthodontist office and spent countless hours shadowing general dentists.
I am attending dental school to become a prepared dentist. I feel that UST will play major role in that. While I certainly don’t know what the future holds, I am positive I will be focusing to serve under-served populations as a dentist. I believe UST would help me gain the needed skills to efficiently and effectively work with these populations in a dental context. I cannot think of any way I would rather spend my time during dental school that serving through UST. It would provide a great link between my work in Guatemala and my dental education. I haven’t had any urban service opportunities in the US and would love to. I know there are impoverished people no matter where you are and look forward to serving them as a future dentist.
Michal Klau-Stevens, School of Social Work, Class of 2019
I was born in Hartford and grew up in Simsbury, CT. After graduating from Skidmore College with a BA in English and Spanish, I lived in locations around the country working as a make-up artist for television and film. After the births of my three children, I became an advocate for maternity care reform, and did community organizing work around the issue. I volunteered for six years as in various positions as a national board member of BirthNetwork National, and served as President for two years. That work connected me with people all over the country who have been affected by our nation’s maternity care, and I’ve listened to hundreds of birth stories. I’ve attended births as a doula for low income women as part of my training as a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and I volunteer in my community on maternal/child health related-issues. I’m a healthcare consumer advocate who appears regularly on the WWLP-22 show Mass Appeal. I’m excited about working with UST because it will help me develop stronger, more understanding relationships with other healthcare workers to work together to solve problems in our healthcare system and better serve our communities. I plan to use my experience to work with agencies and corporations to create sound healthcare policies and practices that provide respectful, effective healthcare with good outcomes to families.
Trisha Kwarko, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born in the Bronx, New York, but raised in Ghana for 5 years before returning to the US. I spent the rest of my childhood in the Bronx and Ohio, and finally settled in Connecticut with my family. I have earned a BS in Allied Health Sciences with a concentration in Gerontology, and as a Young Innovative Investigator Program (YIIP), an MS in Biomedical Science from UConn Health. My previous experiences involving underserved populations include volunteering at a mobile clinic with Global Medical Brigade in Ghana, in Generations Family Health Center, with the Migrant Farm Workers Clinic, the National Health Disparities Elimination Summit, and the NIH NIDDK Short Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons.
Collectively, I have a breadth of healthcare experiences, ranging from translating for patients, measuring vital signs, passing out medication, distributing mosquito nets and water filters, and conducting health disparities research. I am interested in becoming a UST Scholar because, outside of the medical school curriculum, I want to be continuously engaged in community health and education. I believe that people in underserved communities can make sustainable changes in their health, but it begins with the quality of care they receive from their providers. Therefore, through UST, I want to develop the professional skills required to care for underserved population as a physician. I look forward to sharing my experiences and learning among like-minded students and professionals who are supportive of students interested in serving underserved communities.
Abraham Kwok, School of Dental Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born in Queens, NY and spent my childhood in Staten Island, NY and Groton, CT. I graduated from University of Connecticut with a B.S. in Biological Sciences.
I have volunteered in Connecticut’s Mission of Mercy for three years. Working at the front desk of patient registration, I was at the forefront of patient interaction with individuals from various backgrounds. Homeless, ill, and destitute patients waited outside for hours to receive health care they would not be able to afford otherwise. It took the combined effort of numerous volunteers to provide the care that incoming patients needed.
I want to join UST because providing healthcare to underserved communities resonates with my personal beliefs. I see UST as an opportunity to develop my professional and personal skills amidst a diverse group of healthcare professionals. I believe by coordinating between different disciplines, we can bridge the disparities in our patient pools and provide a better quality of life for the underserved community. Separate professions by nature, we all work towards one aspiring goal in building a better future. UST will equip my collaborators and myself with the tools to tackle this monumental task. I look forward to having a newfound appreciation for our many diverse professions. I seek to be an active member of the populace and hope that by being a member of UST I will be able to mold both my personal and professional goals into a fulfilling mission.
Olivia LaFontan, School of Nursing, Class of 2018
I was born and raised in the town of Kent, CT, where my family owns and operates a small organic farm. I graduated from Housatonic Valley Regional High School in 2014 and I am currently a sophomore in the UConn School of Nursing.
I have volunteered as a church school leader in my home town for many years, where I helped educate and care for the children of my church each week. I also volunteered at my town library, where we would often hold special events for children and adults based on topics like personal healthcare or scientific disciplines. I am a member of the UCC UConn group on campus, a community outreach program that plans alternative spring break trips to provide aid to disaster-stricken communities. I currently work as a Personal Care Assistant for a local resident with a disability.
By participating in Urban Service Track, I hope to gain a better awareness of other cultures and social situations, so that I may become a more culturally-competent nurse. In order for me to become the best nurse I can be, I must first understand the beliefs, traditions and lifestyles of the people I am treating. I believe that a large proportion of medically underserved populations is comprised of new mothers who do not receive the prenatal and postnatal care that they need. I hope that the experience I gain through UST will help me to best serve this population in the field of Maternity and work toward resolving their lack of access to healthcare.
Bethany Leaf, School of Nursing, Class of 2018
I am from Middleton, Massachusetts, a small town North of Boston. I plan to finish my Bachelors of Science degree at the University of Connecticut to become a Registered Nurse (RN). I hope to practice and further develop my skills by working for at least two years as an RN. After getting practical experience, I hope to attend graduate school and become a General Nurse Practitioner. This will enable me to help a greater number of people afflicted with more complex health issues.
I want to get involved with the Urban Service Track because I believe it will allow me to help the underserved while becoming a more competent nurse. UST will be great exposure to many different groups of people who do not have adequate access to health care. The program will also provide the opportunity for me to learn from students of other health care professions. I believe that everyone deserves basic health care and I am eager to give my time and skills to this cause. Through organizations at UConn, I have volunteered at a nursing home and an elementary school. While these programs allow me to work on promoting wellness among elderly and adolescent groups, I believe the UST will allow me to broaden the impact my skills can have.
Jennifer Mears, Quinnipiac Physician Assistant Program, Class of 2018
I grew up in Vernon, CT where I lived with my family until I went off to college at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT. I graduated from Quinnipiac in 2016 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Health Science-PA concentration and a double minor in biomedical science and psychology.
Throughout my life, I have been involved in numerous community service organizations and events. The organizations and events which have had the greatest impact on me have been the Relay for Life, the Special Olympics, the Big Event, Q-Thon, my service trip to Nicaragua, and my volunteer experience at local elementary schools.
My interest in the Urban Service Track comes from my desire for a career working in a city helping those less fortunate. As a future physician assistant, I am passionate about collaborative and mutually respectful communication among health care professionals. A health care professional should aim to be knowledgeable across disciplines, and should recognize the necessity of training in primary care, patient education, and prevention. I aspire to join to the UST to broaden my perspective on health care and to gain experience working with underserved population in order to better empathize with my future patients. While I have always strived to do all that I can for underserved populations, I am confident that UST will give me the skills and access to professional networks I need to do the most I can for such populations.
Ritu Meda, Quinnipiac Physician Assistant Program, Class of 2018
I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and received my Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in Sociology from Georgia State University in 2007.
I have worked as an undergraduate research assistant at the IDEA Lab and the Social Neuroscience Lab at Georgia State University, and as a research assistant at the SENSE Lab at Vanderbilt University. My most extensive health care experience, however, has been with the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center, where I was a research assistant at its COBBRA Lab from 2007 until 2010, and from 2012 until the present. My experience in health care granted me extensive knowledge of medical techniques and allowed me to interact with a wide variety of patients and fellow professionals.
I chose the path of medicine in order to give back to the community as best I could. Specifically, I would like to use the skills I have developed in health care to help those underserved communities and community members least able to access health care now. As well as access, I want to prioritize improving health literacy in order to empower patients to improve their health outside the clinic. I believe the Urban Service Track is the ideal program to help me achieve my goals as a Physician Assistant. As well as my personal goals, I believe in the improved efficacy of team-orientated healthcare. Because each health care profession is necessarily limited in isolation, a social worker or a dentist could keep the continuity of care for underserved patients that my training prevents.
Tiffiani-Amber Miller, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born and raised in New York City, and have also lived in Kissimmee, Florida. I earned my B.S. in Biological Sciences with a minor in Sociology from the University of Connecticut in 2015. While attending UConn, I volunteered mentoring younger students to help them pursue higher education. I participated in programs such as the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation and Kids and UConn Bridging Education where I mentored middle and high school students through seminars, learning activities, and academic symposiums.
Following my graduation from UConn, I worked as a Medical Scribe in an emergency department. Working alongside health care providers, my primary duty was to improve the patient/doctor relationship by completing essential documentation on the provider’s chart. During my experience in the ED, I encountered patients who would benefit from the resources provided by the Urban Service Track, but who instead made frequent visits to the hospital to fulfill their primary health care needs. These patients needed help in the management and control of chronic diseases due to their lack of funds or knowledge of appropriate care. UST provides underserved communities with preventative health care measures that I believe are essential to combat health disparities. Educating the community on proper health care procedures and resources is vital to improving the quality-of-life of populations. Participating in UST will allow me to have a positive impact on my community and will broaden my perspectives on health care.
Ashley Mills, School of Social Work
Vinita Mistry, School of Pharmacy, Class of 2019
I was born in Cambridge, England and raised in Mansfield, MA. I am currently an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy working as a pharmacy intern at Natchaug Hospital, a behavioral health facility in Mansfield Center, CT.
Previously, I have volunteered in a retirement community and for the American Red Cross blood drives at UCONN and have worked as a karate instructor at the YMCA and as a pharmacy technician at Stop & Shop. As an Urban Health Scholar my goal is to use my experience with these different organizations to help find solutions to make health care more assessable and desirable to underserved populations. My time at UCONN has only further instilled my desire to help people and taking a part in UST gives me the opportunity to actually use my education in the health care system to make a difference as a student. I not only hope to learn and grow as a developing pharmacist in this program, but to share what I learn and know with people living in underserved communities.
Rob Morrin, School of Dental Medicine, Class of 2018
I was born in New Britain, CT, and was raised there and moved to Berlin, CT where I graduated high school. I received my B.S. in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of Connecticut.
While at the University of Connecticut I put forth my best effort to stay involved helping members of my community. I volunteered with CT Mission of Mercy in Bridgeport and Hartford, and accompanied UConn Dental students to the Galapagos Islands for a dental service trip. I tutored high school students from Hartford aspiring to the first in their families to attend college for the SAT with the Let’s Get Ready college preparatory program. I volunteered as a mentor for middle school students with Kids & UConn Bridging Kids and Education. I participated in two spring break service trips in 2014 and 2015 with UConn’s Honors Across State Borders and was a team leader with the organization. After completing my undergraduate degree, I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer year at Child Protect of Mercer County, an accredited child advocacy center in Princeton, West Virginia.
I wanted to get involved with UST because I’m proud to be from Connecticut, and want to help make it a good place to live for everyone. There is a glaring need for access to healthcare for the state’s urban population, which goes unnoticed by some due to the juxtaposition with the rest of the state. I believe that while nobody is obligated to give back to the community and those in need, I believe healthcare providers across all disciplines cannot have a rewarding and meaningful career without doing so. Inter-professional and multidisciplinary efforts among the healthcare fields are the way of the future and are critical to ensuring that the whole population has a chance to lead healthy lives, not just portions of it. Poor health has a tremendous array of outcomes to those who suffer from lack of access to care, and it is imperative we all work together as one to improve lives. The chance to serve my neighbors alongside my healthcare counterparts, and better our community’s quality of are the main draws that led me to UST. I hope to build my career around improving not only health and quality of lives for Connecticut’s residents, but also improving the delivery of cohesive and unified healthcare across disciplines.
Kelly Nedorostek, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born and raised in Canton, Connecticut and graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in 2014 with a B.A. in Spanish. After receiving my degree, I worked as an admissions associate at The Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, CT.
While in college, I participated in a number of volunteer programs including Student Programs for Urban Development (SPUD) in the city of Worcester, MA, Holy Cross Goes Unified for Special Olympics athletes, and tutoring. I also went on volunteer trips to Virginia, Missouri, and El Salvador. At The Ethel Walker School, a small all girls’ independent day and boarding school, I worked as an admissions associate, academic advisor, swim coach, and coordinated a Unified Art program for adults with intellectual disabilities.
I sought involvement in the Urban Service Track in order to gain a more in-depth understanding of urban communities and, more importantly, to gain an appreciation for the challenges they face. This UST presents a unique and effective way for me to tackle these challenges while performing service for these communities, so that I can become a more compassionate and patient-centered physician.
Amy Nwaobasi, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born and raised in Boston, MA and attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I have a B.S. degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and an M.S. degree in Applied Molecular Biotechnology.
The summer of my sophomore year in college, I worked at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health as a student intern. I went to various after-school programs implemented and funded by the Child and Youth Violence Prevention Unit where I interacted with and mentored the youth of populations facing poverty and violence. To give back to these communities, another intern and I held book drives where we received hundreds of books, which we donated to these after-school programs in hopes of improving literacy and interactive learning amongst the youth. We also created a state blog titled Empowering Our Youth to showcase the positive outcomes that these programs had on youth development in underserved communities.
Lived in an underserved community and working with inner city youths, fuelled my strong desire to help people who are less privileged. The opportunity to participate in the Urban Service Track program will be an important step toward a career as a physician with the goal of reducing health disparities. Since my target population is the urban underserved community, I believe this program will strengthen my knowledge of health issues affecting underserved communities and will provide me with the proper education and training to deliver care to those communities.
Chidinma Okafor, School of Dental Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born and raised in Nigeria for 11 years. Since then, I have been living in Maryland. I attended Mount St. Mary’s University where I received my B.S. in Biology in May 2016. When I was in undergrad, I volunteered with Mission of Mercy in Fredrick MD where I gained an appreciation for service, and I will carry on the spirit of volunteerism in dental school. I sought involvement with UST because the more I learned about health disparities and how it affects the under-served populations, the more passionate I became about becoming part of the solution. And I believe UST is an active step towards solution. Coming from a minority background, I view my obligation as a health provider should be that of service, mentorship, and community.
Michael Pasqualicchio, School of Pharmacy
I grew up in Bristol, Connecticut. I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy Studies in May 2016. I am currently in my third year of pharmacy school and I work as a pharmacy technician at Manchester Memorial Hospital.
The Urban Service Track will provide me with a unique and unparalleled learning experience that will serve to improve my abilities as a future healthcare professional. I look forward to applying the knowledge that I have obtained in the classroom to the real-world, while helping underserved populations. In addition, as a UST scholar, I will have the opportunity to work with students who are enrolled in other professional programs. This interprofessional experience is something that I cannot gain from the pharmacy curriculum alone. I believe that all healthcare professionals should work as a team in order to provide the best possible care to each and every patient. The Urban Service Track will allow me to develop the skills necessary to be an effective member of an interprofessional team in the future. I cannot think of a better way to apply myself as a pharmacy student, than to provide services and help to communities who need it most, as a UST scholar.
Nicholas Perracchio, School of Dental Medicine, Class of 2020
Bolton, Connecticut, University of Connecticut, B.S. Biological Sciences Minor: Molecular and Cell Biology
Dental Assistant on the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine Galapagos Mission Trip 2014, Dentistry for All Guatemala Mission Trip 2016, and CT Mission of Mercy
I wanted to join UST because as dentists I believe we have an obligation to help not only those who can afford dental care, but also those that cannot. Many of these people are in underserved urban populations, and because of this do not receive much needed care. UST will enable and empower me to become a proponent of public health care and a voice for community involvement within the dental community. UST will dramatically increase the diversity of patients I treat and give me great experience with people of different socioeconomic backgrounds. I believe that UST will not only make me a better dentist, but a more compassionate and selfless person.
Veronica Pita, School of Nursing, Class of 2018
I was born in Lima, Peru and moved to the United States when I was four. I was raised in Hartford and Wethersfield, CT. I am currently working to receive my Bachelor's in Nursing.
I am a Certified Nurse’s Assistant (CNA), and have helped many people with daily activities such as eating and bathing; I have also simply spent time with them. While growing up in Hartford, I witnessed many people in my community, even in my own household, who couldn't afford proper healthcare, such as CNA care. I want to be able to use the nursing skills I now have to aid the people who need them the most, families like my own. I have previously volunteered for Huskies Fighting Hunger where we provided underserved communities in Connecticut with bags of food we had packaged. My sorority has also conducted a pageant, the proceeds of which went to high school seniors from undeserved communities who needed financial assistance for college.
After hearing about the different skills the Urban Service Track develops and the communities it works with, I wanted to apply to the UST to help these communities the best I could. As a nurse, I will encounter many different communities, and to give the best possible health care, I will have to learn the unique perspectives and issues of each community. With the skills and experience form UST, I'm confident I can earn the trust of these communities and better make a difference in their individual and collective lives.
Kristian Pretashi, School of Pharmacy, Class of 2018
I was born in Lezhe, Albania. At age 3, due to overall social unrest and the Albanian civil war, we immigrated to Italy as political refugees. Growing up as an immigrant I experienced first hand the struggles of living in an underserved urban population at an early age. At age 14, we moved from Italy to the United States, in West Hartford CT, where yet again I was faced with the challenge of adapting to a new and very different environment. By 2017 I will double major in Pharmacy Studies and Biological Sciences.
Working at Yale New Haven at the Smilow Cancer Hospital has been a great experience. The clinical experience and the diverse population encountered in the institutional environment have only fortified the need for me to focus on preventive care.
Thanks to UST I will be able to use my cultural competency and cultural humility that I have developed over the years. I hope that my problem-solving skills and communication skills with native fluency in many languages, like Albanian, Italian, and Spanish will be able to help bridge the health disparities of the underserved and aid in the flourishing of our interprofessional teams. As members, we will learn and grow from each other and our patients to ultimately better serve our population as professionals in our fields.
Emma Reichart, Quinnipiac Physician Assistant Program, Class of 2018
I was born in Providence, RI, but have lived throughout New England my whole life. I graduated from Bates College (Lewiston, ME) in 2014 with a B.S. in Psychology/Pre-Med and concentrations in Public Health and Chemistry.
In college, as part of the Bates Public Health Initiative, I volunteered as a pre-med student with the Trinity Jubilee Center & Clinic, a ministry that provided basic medical care to homeless and refugee populations in Lewiston, Maine. I spent my college summers working for SARAH Tuxis, an agency that provides home care to those with varying levels of developmental and intellectual disabilities. I also took part in advocating for and implementing support strategies for the residents in my care. Once I graduated from Bates College, I worked in pediatric primary care at Wildwood Pediatrics in Essex, CT as a clinical assistant/MA.
What excites me most about being a part of the Urban Service Track is the program’s team environment. I look forward to working alongside doctors, dentists, pharmacists, social workers, nurses, and technicians, and incorporating their various abilities into optimized, holistic patient care for people that would not receive health care otherwise. As a PA, I will have the responsibility of communicating with and providing appropriate resources and education to my patients. At UST, there is an incredible amount of diversity in those we will meet and treat as healthcare providers, across all age groups, genders, and across socioeconomic and mental health spectrums. That diversity of interaction is a major appeal of training as a PA, and doing it with the UST.
Darnell Robin, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born in Fairfax, Virginia, and grew up in Fort Washington, Maryland. I attended Oakwood University and graduated in 2014 with a B.S. in Biomedical Sciences and in 2016 with a B.A. in Spanish.
My parents have always instilled in me the desire to help others, especially vulnerable people. Growing up, my parents had my siblings and I involved in ministries that helped to feed homeless people and care for disabled people in nursing homes. This background compelled me to continue serving throughout my undergraduate years, during which I planned trips to the Downtown Rescue Mission and organized blood drives.
Involvement with the Urban Service Track is thus in accord with all my previous medical and service experiences. UST equips health care professionals to reach out to underserved communities that are most in need of help. The goal of UST aligns with my personal core beliefs that everyone is entitled to adequate healthcare. Finally, its curriculum emphasizes teamwork between healthcare professionals, which I believe will help me find the best overall health care solutions for my future patients.
Bobby Romano, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born and raised in Waterbury, CT. I graduated summa cum laude with honors in Sports Biology and Nutrition in 2014 from Springfield College, MA.
After graduating from Springfield, I joined the UConn School of Medicine staff as a biomedical researcher for two years. During this time, I served as a volunteer and coordinator at Migrant Farm Workers Clinics and as a High School Football Coach at Lewis Mills High School, CT.
At the core of effective medicine are practitioners with a powerful desire to help their fellow human beings. This central insight guides my medical training and will guide my career. My experience working at the Migrant Farm Workers Clinic gave me an understanding of how to provide immediate, comprehensive care to a vulnerable population. I seek involvement in the Urban Service Track because the program affords further education in population health, culture and linguistics, and advocacy through training on interdisciplinary healthcare teams, which will provide a foundation for leadership in service in my future as a physician. As a former college football player, I want to surround myself with a strong team of diverse players, all of whom have the same goal in mind: serving our community, especially those who are most vulnerable.
Belinda Sam, School of Pharmacy, Class of 2018
I was born in Queens, NY and moved to Guilford, CT when I was 11 years old. I am was heavily involved in community service organization since in high school and have continued my volunteering through my participation in Phi Delta Chi and UConn’s American Pharmacists Association – Academy of Student Pharmacists.
Growing up in the city, I saw a lot of social inequalities and had an interest in helping the less fortunate. My desire of serving others still stuck with me when I moved to Connecticut. Even after living in Connecticut for so many years, I still have a connection with the urban community. When I first heard about UST as a freshman, I was hooked immediately. I had finally found a program that cared about helping others as much as I do and one that is focused on a community that I have a deep connection with. Being a UST Scholar, I am excited for the impact that I can have on the communities that we will serve. I am looking forward to the experiences and skills that I will gain working interprofessionally and directly with these underserved populations. I believe it will not only better me as a pharmacist but also as a person.
Kristen Sena, Quinnipiac Physician Assistant Program, Class of 2018
I was born and grew up in in Superior, Colorado. I attended the University of Colorado, Boulder and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Integrative Physiology.
I volunteered and worked as an EMT for an ambulance service outside Denver, Colorado. I have also worked as an EMT in the Emergency Room at Children’s Hospital Colorado, and as an adjunct instructor for an EMT class at Front Range Community College.
The Urban Service Track is a great opportunity for current and future health care providers to help out in underserved communities in Connecticut. I believe health care is and always will be in service of our patients, so that we, as providers, must do everything we can to ensure our patients get the best possible care. Outside of the doctor’s office, everyone deserves to know the many ways they can improve their own health and the health of families; we are facilitators of this process of learning. UST will give me the opportunity to improve the lives of patients both as a student and as a future practitioner.
Priyanka Shah, Quinnipiac Physician Assistant Program, Class of 2018
I was born and raised in California, where I attended Pepperdine University and obtained my B.S. in Sports Medicine.
My health care-related experience has spanned medical assisting, clinical research, and health education. Prior to matriculating at the PA program at Quinnipiac University, I helped establish the Stanford Stroke Collaborative Action Network, a team of scientists, clinicians, therapists, engineers, and researchers working together to determine how people recover from strokes. My experience with the organization taught me how transformative solutions can arise from collaborations across professions, as each profession combines its knowledge with others to make progress on complex problems. All health care providers can collaborate to meet the needs of our patients—our common and ultimate goal.
I constantly seek ways to bring together my own diverse set of my skills to improve healthcare access and outcomes of others. My efforts often include publishing on my plant-based recipe blog, educating my community about maintaining an active lifestyle, and providing outreach in underserved areas.
I sought involvement in the Urban Service Track because I want to be able to empower others to work toward their optimal health, to restore vitality and enable positive lifestyle changes. Whether that is through preventive screenings, health education, or by providing integrative, patient-centered care, UST will enable me to achieve this goal as a PA student and clinical professional.
Chih-yu (George) Shyu, School of Pharmacy, Class of 2018
I was born in Kaohsiung, Taiwan and came to the states when I was thirteen. I graduated from Rutgers University with a B.S. in Animal Biotechnology in 2009.
After graduation, I spend six years in the pharmaceutical industry as a chemist. My responsibility was to meticulously examine each batch of the drug product to ensure its safety and efficacy. It has helped me to cultivate a keen attention to detail. At the same time I was working in the retail pharmacy, which has exposed me to the medically underserved population. It has made me realize that, as a pharmacist I can apply the knowledge and crafts that I have learned to help people receive better care.
Being an immigrant myself, I was without health insurance and had limited access to dental or primary care for the majority of my adolescence. When I was in need of medical attention, I worried that going to the hospitals might subject me to an unaffordable bill. When I started working and got health insurance from my employer, I learned more about the U.S. HealthCare system. I have also taught many newcomers about the importance of getting access to health care. This transition played an important part in driving me to enter pharmacy school. For a better part of my youth, the pharmacist was the only health care professional that I had access to and I believe this is also true for many other immigrants. When I become a pharmacist, I want to make myself available to the underserved population. Not only to help them obtain their medication, but to show them how to access other health care professionals.
UST presents a revolutionary approach to the Health Care Professional Education. Traditionally, students within different disciplines of health care do not have the opportunity to cooperate with one another until later in their student career. This practice presents a problem as the students often do not have enough understanding of other professions to truly achieve a cohesive relationship. As UST Scholars, however, students are able to be imbued in an inter-professionally oriented training environment earlier on in their education. This allows the students to understand the strength of each profession and how to incorporate themselves into the team to attain greater outcomes. As a student pharmacist in the UST, I am determined to become a more worthy, useful agent in the healthcare system, and I hope to inspire other health care professionals to advocate for our irreplaceable role.
Meaghan Stinson, Quinnipiac Physician Assistant Program, Class of 2018
I was born in Winchester, MA and grew up in Wilmington, MA. I graduated from Quinnipiac University in 2016 with a B.S. in Health Science Studies and am currently pursuing my Master’s Degree in Physician Assistant Studies, also at Quinnipiac.
During my time as an undergraduate, I developed a deep love of helping others, both with their health care and in their broader lives. I have been involved in the Midnight Run at Quinnipiac, which provides essentials to shelters and the homeless population of New Haven, CT. Prior to beginning PA school, I worked as an EMT-B for the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office at their Youth Public Safety Academy. The program’s mission is to provide a week of camp to children from communities across Eastern Massachusetts who otherwise would have been financially unable to attend.
My passion for helping others is what drives me to participate in the Urban Service Track. UST offers me the ability to broaden the scope of my medical education outside of the classroom and apply that education to make a difference in underserved populations. With this opportunity, I plan to advocate for greater access to healthcare in my future field of medicine. I also believe that my time in UST will enable me to better communicate with my future patients by allowing me time and space to focus on learning about their community and culture. I know my education at UST will help me to become the best PA possible for underserved communities.
Kate Topalis, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I grew up in Simsbury, Connecticut, and obtained my B.A. in Hispanic Language and Literature and Ecology and Conservation at Boston University.
Throughout undergrad, I spent much of my time connecting my interests in public health, Spanish, and environmental stewardship through community outreach. I worked as an intern at the Action for Boston Community Development and a research assistant in the Center for Infectious Diseases at Boston Medical, and I volunteered in the Pediatric Emergency Department
I traveled to Honduras three times through Global Medical Brigades to care for residents in otherwise inaccessible areas, and spent my sophomore spring break working with HIV patients and at-risk youth in Puerto Rico. I coordinated my own service trip during my senior year, during which I worked with disabled and mistreated animals at a livestock rescue in rural Virginia. After graduating college, I spent my gap year at the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment in Washington, D.C., where I conducted educational outreach throughout the Mid-Atlantic States on issues such as lead exposure, poor housing conditions, and unsafe drinking water.
As I begin my career as a medical professional, I hope to continue exploring the connections between environmental and human health, especially with regard to their impacts on urban populations. Through its focus not only on healthcare, but also on patient empowerment, education, and public policy, the Urban Service Track will help me become an open-minded caregiver with the ability to assess and address the diverse needs of urban residents and communities.
Lanya Tseng, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born and raised in Branford, CT. I graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, PA, with a Bachelor of Science in Statistics.
Throughout college, I was involved with the Prevention Point Pittsburgh needle exchange clinic and Global Medical Brigades. I have also volunteered with Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven, the Connecticut Hospice, and Simply Smiles in Oaxaca, Mexico. Before starting medical school, I spent a year working at Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals in the Biotherapeutic Department’s Antibody Engineering Group.
I sought out involvement in the Urban Service Track to continue giving back to local communities and underserved populations. As a member of UST, I expect to learn from a wide array of people, including experts from different health care disciplines, the populations we aim to serve, and fellow students committed to service, about how I can best apply my skills to the promotion of health in Connecticut's urban underserved populations. I look forward to the collaborating with people from other disciplines in order to contribute to holistic approaches to health care for underserved communities.
Nina Tufaro, Quinnipiac Physician Assistant Program, Class of 2018
I was born and raised in Long Island, New York. I received a BA in Biology and English from Bucknell University and a Master of Public Health degree in the International Track from New York University.
I have volunteered with a New York City hospital organization aimed at providing support and advocacy for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. I have also interned with the Uganda Village Project in rural Uganda, where I collaborated with local and international students to improve health in a village through education and improvement in access to health care.
My main attraction to the Urban Service Track is the program’s focus on multidisciplinary collaboration. I believe such work makes more efficient use of limited resources and leads to more comprehensive and successful programs and policy for providing health care to the medically underserved. During UST, I hope to learn more about how other healthcare disciplines contribute to medically underserved communities, to learn how best to integrate my public health education into my clinical practice as a Physician Assistant, and to develop my leadership skills.
Vruksha Upadhyay, School of Medicine, Class of 2020
I was born and raised in the small village of Vaso, India until 2000 when I moved to Connecticut. I attended UConn for my undergraduate and majored in Molecular and Cell Biology.
My first experience with inner city communities came as a volunteer researcher for Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. While researching the prevalence of violence and obesity rates in Hartford, I became interested in the striking differences between suburban and urban communities. Numerous urban families complained about inadequate produce stores, while others were surprised at the amount of sugar in fruit juice. I came to realize there existed a lack of nutritional education and accessibility for inner city families. I continue to work with urban demographics as a medical scribe at a Danbury. There, I learn about adult medicine and lack of healthcare coverage, especially among Hispanic people.
As someone who was raised in a low socioeconomic home, I feel pulled towards helping overcome the multifactorial challenges faced by citizens of lower socioeconomic classes. I am driven to join the Urban Service Track not only to help urban communities, but also to better understand the complex admixture of groups living in them. I hope to learn about the language barriers and strenuous work schedules of migrant farm workers or the inadequate education and unaffordable healthcare hindering inner city kids. I hope one day to work in urban hospitals and free clinics around the United States, while also doing international work with Doctors Without Borders.
Connor Walker, School of Pharmacy, Class of 2018
I was born in Torrington, Connecticut, and have lived there ever since. I earned my Bachelors of Science degree in Pharmacy Studies here at the University of Connecticut. As a full-time student working toward my degree, I also set aside time to participate in various volunteer activities, including two separate mission trips down to storm-ravaged States in the South, and most recently a medical volunteer program in the surrounding hillsides of Cusco, Peru. During my time volunteering, I provided aid and relief to the impoverished communities residing there. I also currently work as an intern for an independent pharmacy located in my hometown of Torrington. Working here has bestowed upon me a true appreciation for helping the people that make up my community. As I reflect back on all of these invaluable experiences, it has become clear to me that I have a true passion for helping underserved communities. I see the Urban Service Track program as a perfect way for me to continue doing the work that I love. Furthermore, as a member of the program I will get an opportunity to work in an interprofessional environment with fellow students from other areas of healthcare. My experiences as a member of UST will allow me to gain further insight in what it truly means to give care to those who need it most, as well as providing me with the building blocks necessary to reach my full potential as a healthcare professional.
Rachel Ziter, School of Nursing, Class of 2018
I grew up in Ellington, CT. I graduated from Ellington High School in 2014, and am working towards a Bachelors of Science in Nursing at UConn, Storrs.
Before going to UConn, I volunteered as an organizer raising awareness of breast cancer and educating others about its treatment. At UConn, I volunteer with the American Red Cross club on campus, and have also volunteered at the 2015 Husky Classic Special Olympics, which I hope to do again each of my years at UConn.
I believe that the current medical establishment overlooks many of the people that should be at the center of its attentions. UST strikes me as an effective remedy to the situation: a community of students and faculty coming together to collaborate on improving service and healthcare in underserved communities. I think it is important to remember that many people who are most in need of help are not in a position to seek that help, and that helping others is the greatest good we can aspire to. I'm sure my time at UST will be very productive, as I have the opportunity to help those in need, forge relationships across disciplines, and gain valuable nursing experience.
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