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  May 15, 2000

Be True to Yourselves, Aspiring Doctor
Will Urge Graduating Class

Sometimes a bad break turns out to be a good omen.

For graduating senior, Clifford Rios it was a sports-related knee injury that piqued his interest in orthopedic medicine and started him on his journey to a medical career.

High Achieving Graduates Look
Set for Promising Careers

"I had knee surgery five years ago and my doctor turned me onto orthopedic medicine," says Rios, who graduates this month with a bachelor of science degree with honors in physiology and neurobiology . An honors student and a Babbidge Scholar, Rios has been awarded a full four-year academic scholarship to the School of Medicine at the UConn Health Center. Babbidge Scholars are undergraduates who maintain a 4.0 grade point average for two consecutive semesters in a calendar year.

"I would like to be an orthopedic surgeon, but I haven't made a final decision yet, because I haven't been exposed to all fields of medicine," says Rios. For the past two years, he has been shadowing Barry Messinger, an orthopedic surgeon in Manchester, who also serves as a medical consultant for the University's athletic division.

Rios was first exposed to the possibility of a medical career in 1996, when he was one of 15 pre-college students to participate in the "3000 by 2000" program on the Storrs campus.

The statewide program with two sister sites - one at Central Connecticut State University and the other at Wesleyan University - serves as a pipeline between school systems and colleges, to interest traditionally underrepresented students in health care careers. The goal of the program was to attract 3,000 students by the year 2000.

"Cliff is one of two students from the group of 15 to be admitted to the University's School of Medicine," says Ellen Darrow, director of the Academic Advisory Center in the School of Allied Health. "The other students are also graduating in health-related areas, such as pharmacy and nursing," she adds.

She notes that Rios was the only male student in the first group and that he is both brilliant and modest.

"As soon as he becomes a doctor, he's my doctor," she says.

The sentiments were also expressed by Donna Fournier, associate dean in the School of Pharmacy and an associate professor.

"If I had to describe the ideal student, I would use Cliff Rios as the model," says Fournier, who has served as an informal mentor to Rios. "He's bright, inquisitive and helps other students."

Marja M. Hurley, associate dean and director of the department of health career opportunity programs and associate professor of medicine at the School of Medicine, also has high praise for Rios.

"He was admitted to the medical school on an early decision, based on his outstanding academic records and personal qualities," says Hurley. "We've had a long interaction with Cliff and he's going to make a wonderful addition to the medical class."

During the past semester, Rios has taken part in an independent research project under the instruction of John Salamone, a professor of psychology. The research involved an FDA-approved drug called Ropinirole. The drug is used in helping patients with Parkinson's disease, a movement disorder generally affecting people in their 60s and older.

"We induced the tremors in rats and then successfully reversed the tremors with Ropinirole," says Rios. "The drug is certainly clinically effective and advantageous because it does not create adverse side effects. That's the key to most pharmaceutical treatments."

Rios' next paper will have a vast audience. He's been selected to introduce the Class of 2000 to President Philip E. Austin during the graduation ceremonies.

Says Rios: "My general theme is going to be about integrity, about being honest to oneself and to one another."

Claudia Chamberlain