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 April 10, 2000

Honors Students Get Together to Share Aspirations, Experiences

Sophomore Camille Buddhu has known for a long time that she wants to be a physician. The daughter of a doctor and a nurse, she has grown up with the idea of a medical career. But she needs to be sure it's her own decision. That, combined with recognizing the intense competition she faces to get into medical school, places her under a lot of stress.

This semester Buddhu, an honors student, has launched a support group for pre-medical and pre-dental students who face similar pressures. "We are building collegiality among pre-med and pre-dental students," she says. "We aim to form a group of people who share similar dreams and concerns."

Many pre-med students "have so much pressure on them, from themselves or from other people. It's really hard when you're dealing with it on your own," she says. "You wonder if you are making the right decision - am I going to be a doctor for myself or for my parents? Do I have the heart to put in the time and energy to get into medical school, get through medical school and be an excellent doctor?"

The group, which met for the first time late last month, plans to meet biweekly. For now, there are just a dozen members, but Buddhu expects the number to grow rapidly as the word spreads. A couple of hundred undergraduates at UConn hope to go into medicine or dentistry. Each year, 40 to 50 of them apply to medical schools.

Buddhu says she hopes to bring speakers from nearby medical schools to campus, and to organize visits to hospitals to observe medical and surgical procedures. "We want to get a better view of what medicine and dentistry are like," she says.

The group is one of several new groups being formed under the auspices of the Honors Program. "We want to get students together so that they can get to know each other across semester standing levels, get advice and have someone to talk to," says Michael Cutlip, professor of chemical engineering and director of the honors program.

"We recognized that students even in the same program but in different years don't know each other," he says. "Many of the classes in the curriculum are sequential or divided according to years, and across those boundaries students don't know each other."

Buddhu agrees. There is a well established advising program for pre-med students, headed by Joseph Crivello, an associate professor of physiology and neurobiology, who helps with selecting appropriate courses, compiling faculty recommendations and submitting applications to medical schools. Yet, she says, "there's nothing that gets pre-med and pre-dental students together besides classes and asking each other, 'Are you pre-med?'"

The groups are being started among honors students to begin with, but Cutlip expects other students to join. A group was formed recently for education students and he hopes to launch a third, for pre-law students.

"It's all to do with looking at things in a student-centered way and seeing if we can provide for students' needs in a more practical and meaningful way," says Trevor Tebbs, assistant director of the honors program and a graduate student in gifted and talented education, who is helping get the education group started. "This is about developing a better sense of community."

Tebbs and George Drumm, director of teacher education in UConn's Neag School of Education, are working together to develop the education group.

"We are trying to provide activities to stimulate students' thinking and interest in the Honors Program and education," says Drumm. "There are not too many opportunities for students to get together and share ideas and thoughts about teaching. Hopefully, this will make them more sure about education."

Meetings include seminars, visiting speakers, and other events focused on educational topics. Students in their freshman and sophomore years who are considering a career in education are especially welcome. Mentoring, inspiration and sound practical advice is readily available to these lower classmen, who sometimes have difficult decisions to make.

A recent visitor was Paula Erickson, principal of O'Connell School in East Hartford, who is this year's Connecticut Elementary Principal of the Year.

The seminars have proved popular with students so far. "The feedback is proven by the participation rate," says Drumm. "After Paula Erickson spoke, some of the students even contacted her and arranged to visit her school."

Drumm and Tebbs are also collaborating on a program known as Comment, that involves honors students as mentors to K-12 students in various Connecticut schools. For honors students in education, the program is now offered as an alternative to writing an honors thesis.

Jennifer Bancroft, a junior in the honors program who is majoring in education, says she has enjoyed interacting with the group of 11 honors students so much this year, she hopes the group can stay together next year.

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu