The fall semester is well underway and the UConn medical and dental students have hit the ground running. Leaders from both schools say the class of 2016 is an impressive group.
This year’s incoming class for the dental school consists of 62 percent Connecticut residents, 32 percent UConn-Storrs graduates, and a male majority of 63 percent. Eighty-two percent of the medical students are from Connecticut, one-third were UConn undergrads, and 53 percent are men.
However, good grades, high test scores, and a strong Connecticut presence are not all the Class of 2016 has to offer.
“The Class of 2016 is a cohort of amazingly talented young men and women who have already accomplished so much and offer great promise for the future of health care,” says Dr. Suzanne Rose, senior associate dean for education. “These individuals represent a diverse group with achievements in scholarships, science, and the humanities, as well as a commitment to the values that our institution believes in.”
Medical student Mark Barber began his schooling with a strong commitment to the humanities and then developed an interest in medicine as a result. Barber did his undergraduate studies at Middlebury College in Vermont and graduated with degrees in Film and Media Culture and Spanish.
While at Middlebury College, Barber musically directed a play written in the early ’80s called “Falsettos,” about a gay man who dies of HIV.
“An audience member approached us after the show and thanked us for putting a voice to his story,” says Barber. “It was so satisfying knowing we had really moved people, but I wanted to be able to do more.”
After graduation, the Shelton native moved to New York City, where he spent three years producing Broadway plays. Then he enrolled in a post-baccalaureate program at Columbia University. Barber volunteered as an intake clinician at Gay Men’s Health Crisis and was a surgical videographer for a year during the post-bac program. He spent a year clinically researching HIV at Mount Sinai Hospital before coming to UConn.
Barber says the early clinical exposure is a big factor in his choosing UConn.
“I’m anxious to really be working with patients,” he says. “HIV is what brought me into medicine, but I’m keeping an open mind about which specialty I will choose. I’m ready to see all of them.”
Dr. Edward Thibodeau, associate dean for admissions in the dental school, says, “The dental class of 2016 represents a unique blend of students who, as applicants, demonstrated academic excellence, a love of the profession, and a commitment of service to others. We are very pleased and fortunate that they chose to attend UConn for their dental education.”
Dental student Amaka Amakwe is part of the 37 percent of students not originally from Connecticut. Amakwe spent the first 17 years of her life in Nigeria before moving to Texas and then New Jersey.
Amakwe says dental hygiene in Nigeria is very good, due to the lack of processed foods or large amounts of sugar in the diet. She says it is a problem when people from Africa move to the United States, because they are not used to American foods and the need for more professional dental upkeep. “Dentistry isn’t a big thing in Nigeria. I didn’t even see a dentist until I moved to the United States,” says Amakwe. However, she says she wanted to be a dentist since age seven when she chipped a tooth.
Amakwe says UConn’s focus on public service is what drew her to the school. Her goal is to open a dental practice in an urban area with a large population of immigrants.
“I want to be the bridge between the African community and the dental profession. I want to be able to explain it to them,” she says.
Both Barber and Amakwe say they are enjoying their first month at UConn and the aspects of the school that initially attracted them are ringing true.
“I’ve felt supported here both by faculty and fellow classmates,” says Barber. “Everyone seems committed to the best education possible.”
Amakwe says she is really enjoying the small class sizes and feeling of togetherness between the School of Medicine and the School of Dental Medicine. She says it is not an environment of competitiveness, but of learning.
“This class will have the awesome responsiblity of helping us prepare for the initiatives on education for Bioscience Connecticut,” says Rose. “Increased incoming class sizes, a loan forgiveness program, creating innovative state-of-the-art educational space, and renewing and reforming our curriculum with advanced educational technology, team-based learning, and patient-centered learning experiences. It is an exciting beginning for the Class of 2016!”