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Minority students explore options for the future at symposium

by Richard Veilleux - January 30, 2006

Together, the panelists represented some of America’s finest success stories – four men and a woman who have overcome obstacles and risen to the top of their professions as business executives, academics, and leaders.

Yet, as they took turns Thursday evening addressing a room full of minority students enrolled in math, science, engineering or health professions, each of the panelists offered an example of a wall they had run into, an attempt they had failed, or a time when they had stumbled or even retreated.

“You’re going to go through some hardship to get what you want,” warned Darrell Bryant, a pharmacy professor at Ohio State University and president of a pharmaceutical company he founded. “I didn’t pass the entrance exam the first time I tried to get into the pharmacy graduate program, but I worked hard and made it the next time,” he said.

Perseverance was a constant theme during the first Science, Engineering, and Health Professions Collaborative Symposium, held Jan. 19 in the Lewis B. Rome Ballroom at South Campus. The symposium, organized by the Office of Multicultural and International Affairs, brought together about 40 exhibitors and nearly 200 mostly minority students interested in exploring their options for the future.

“I wanted to find out more about graduate school and see what kind of internships are out there,” said Angie St. Preux, a freshman from Hartford majoring in biology. “I’m interested in getting into pre-med, and the sooner I start volunteering and doing research, the better chance I’ll have of getting in. I’m looking at this as a resume builder.”

St. Preux, like nearly all the other students, spent the first hour of the program mingling with representatives from General Dynamics, Pfizer, AT&T, The Jackson Laboratory, and representatives from graduate schools, including MIT, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Ohio State University, Boston University, the universities of Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, the UConn Health Center, and a number of UConn graduate programs.

Pfizer’s table was a constant draw.

“You will be challenged if you get an internship at Pfizer,” David Blackwell, a research scientist at Pfizer Global Research, told a group of five women circled around him. “But you will be working with the best.”

That fact wasn’t lost on Ron Ramsubhag, sophomore from Bridgeport majoring in chemistry.

“I’m learning a lot about the companies, looking for internships,” said Ramsubhag. “I’d really like to get an internship at Pfizer. For a chemistry major, it would be just about perfect.”

The program was supported by two grants: a four-year, $300,000 grant from the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), which is matched by the University, and a two-year, $150,000 Connecticut Health Foundation Research Grant.

Damon Williams, assistant vice provost for multicultural and international affairs, says it will become an annual event. This year’s program was one of the largest academic leadership development events ever attended by UConn undergraduate students of color, Williams says, and he hopes to draw up to 75 more students next year, as well as another 20 vendors.

The students that attended this year were impressive, busily going about their work, checking off the vendors they had already visited and moving to others. The room buzzed with conversation about programs, graduate school requirements, available internships, and research opportunities, at the companies who sent representatives and among the UConn departments that offer a Research Experience for Undergraduates site during the summer.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for a biology major,” said Anna Aluko, a junior from Ivory Coast, whose parents live in Manchester, N.H. “There are many companies here with a need for biologists, and it’s a chance to talk to them, and also to find out what’s required for graduate school.” Aluko hopes to study at the UConn Health Center, on her way to becoming a general surgeon.

Marja Hurley, one of five panelists in the afternoon, spoke about the aspirations she had when she was an undergraduate. Hurley, an associate dean in the School of Medicine, director of Health Careers and Opportunity Programs, and an associate professor of medicine at the Health Center, said she decided at a young age that she wanted to be a doctor. During her undergraduate years at UConn, she found a number of role models on campus to keep her eyes on the prize.

Hurley earned her bachelor’s degree in 1972 and became not only the first black woman to graduate from UConn’s medical school, but also the first black woman to be a vice president at the medical school. Getting there, she said, took perseverance and help.

“I knew nothing was going to stop me,” she said. “So I got a tutor, I got a mentor, I found role models. You have to believe in yourself and get all the help you can to achieve your dream.”

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