Chancellor's Friday Letters

Two Med Student Successes

Two Med Student Successes

March 12, 2010

Dear Friends,

The power of two.

Two stories that provide inspiration, ignite pride, and illuminate hope.

But its not just two stories. Rather, it’s two stories about students at the University of California, Riverside.

Story One – Sergio Alfaro just completed his baccalaureate in neuroscience, and is sifting through his admissions and interviews for medical school – and the offers continue to pour in.

Not just any medical school, but the best in the country: each of the UC medical schools, plus Harvard, Duke and Stanford.

My wife, Karen, and I visited with Sergio on Wednesday. Albert Chevez, who is director and advisor of our Medical and Health Careers program, brought us together and joined the conversation.

Sergio did poorly in high school. He says he was either under-motivated or de-motivated. Even when he could shine, he chose not to… that little bit of rebel in his youth that he now laments. He chose to flunk the only honor’s class that he took, just because he didn’t want to push himself and “over-achieve.”

He joined the Army at 17. He was a combat medic. It was the beginning of the Iraq war. War changed his life in good ways and in difficult ways.

Upon discharge, he completed his lower division work at Riverside Community College. He then chose UCR because of its proximity to his small impoverished home town… so he could be close to his family (he is the 7th of nine children).

He didn’t choose UCR based on reputation or expectations of something exceptional. Rather, he thought we would just be okay.

He was so wrong, as he relayed it to us.

He found UCR exceptional. . . exceptional faculty, exceptional staff, and an exceptional learning environment. He found an intimate, challenging and supportive learning environment like none other, one that inspired his studies and focused his life.

He found vital assistance in our Student Services Program… Lenita Kellstrand provided, in Sergio’s words “unbelievable support.” And it was clear that Albert had much to do with Sergio’s progress in living his promise. The transition back to civilian life was a real challenge for Sergio, but he found UCR to be cathartic. Now he is on his way to becoming an exceptional physician.

Good for him. Good for us.

Story Two – Marizabel Orellana, an inspirational single mother of a 13-year-old is a student in our UCR/UCLA Thomas Haider Program in Biomedical Sciences. She just was recognized by the American Medical Association Foundation with the prestigious 2010 Leadership Award (http://newsroom.ucr.edu/news_item.html?action=page&id=2278 ).

So, what is the big deal you might wonder? Well for one, she was one of only 20 recipients across America…in the top 0.026 percent of America’s medical students. For another, the award honors exemplary non-clinical leadership skills in advocacy, community service and education – and singles out future leaders who have extraordinary promise in organized medicine and community affairs.

Marizabel is now in her second year of medical training at UCR. In 2008 she and two fellow UCR students, Vanessa Correa and Manpreet Singh, launched a junior internship program at a regional community center. Last year she expanded it into a six-week summer program to engage young teens’ interest in higher education and careers in health care.

And that’s only one of myriad activities that this energetic woman is involved with. Associate Dean and Professor Neal Schiller indicated that despite the rigors of her medical studies, she constantly initiates new activities of service and engages her classmates to join her.

Marizabel is now one of almost 700 medical students who have trained at UCR over the last 30 years. She plans to earn her MD and Master of Public Health degrees in five years, and ultimately practice in family medicine or emergency medicine.

Good for her. Good for us.

When the day comes when any among us need medical care, I know we each would be comforted to see Marizabel or Sergio… or the hundreds like them who have participated in medical education programs at the University of California, Riverside.

Best regards,


Tim White, Chancellor

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