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With Persistence and Hard Work, Alum Pursues her Dream of Becoming a Doctor


Posted 11/17/2015
Posted by Barbara Steinberger


Stella-Maris Ogwu '06, '08 expects to graduate in May 2016 from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn.  She hopes to complete a residency in pediatrics, and eventually open a medical clinic for children in her native Nigeria.

Stella-Maris Ogwu '06, '08 expects to graduate in May 2016 from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. She hopes to complete a residency in pediatrics, and eventually open a medical clinic for children in her native Nigeria.

Pictured at the Nov. 5 ceremony for the Hillyer College Outstanding Young Alumna Award are (l-r) Hillyer student Miguel Badillo '19, who helped present the award; award recipient Stella-Maris Ogwu '06, '08; Hillyer Dean David Goldenberg; and Vice President of Institutional Advancement Christine Pina

Pictured at the Nov. 5 ceremony for the Hillyer College Outstanding Young Alumna Award are (l-r) Hillyer student Miguel Badillo '19, who helped present the award; award recipient Stella-Maris Ogwu '06, '08; Hillyer Dean David Goldenberg; and Vice President of Institutional Advancement Christine Pina

Stella-Maris Ogwu '06, '08, who grew up as part of a large family in Nigeria, vividly remembers the evening when her mother looked up at her over dinner and asked what she planned to do with her life. “I want to be a doctor,” the then-16-year-old Stella replied, having little idea what that actually involved.

Today—more than a decade later and after overcoming numerous challenges along the way—Stella is poised to achieve the goal that she set that night over the family dinner table in Nigeria. Hers is a story of persistence, hard work, and never giving up on your dream.

Stella expects to graduate in May 2016 from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., and begin her residency in pediatrics. Eventually she would like to return to Nigeria and open a medical clinic for children.

On Nov. 5, the University of Hartford’s Hillyer College recognized Stella’s achievements by presenting her with its 2015 Outstanding Young Alumna Award.

“Through all the difficulties, tears, and frustration, I stand here before you today, six months away from graduating from medical school,” Stella said at the award ceremony, encouraging Hillyer students to “keep pursuing your dreams and never give up on yourself.”

Stella earned an associate's degree from Hillyer College in 2006, and went on to major in biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, earning a bachelor's degree in 2008.

She made the most of her undergraduate experience, both in and out of the classroom. Stella participated in an Alternative Spring Break trip to help rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; took part in Hillyer College’s honors Winterterm course in Hawaii; and spent a semester studying abroad in England. While at Hillyer, she also discovered a love for English, and ultimately chose that as her minor.

Stella, who describes herself as shy and soft-spoken, benefited from the small classes, supportive faculty, and personal attention that are Hillyer’s hallmarks. “Hillyer College provided a friendly learning environment that challenged me to be the best,” Stella said.

The confidence and resilience that Stella developed at Hillyer would come in handy. After graduating from UHart, Stella took the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)—and her score, in her words, was “pretty bad.”

She re-dedicated herself to preparing for the MCAT, and on her second try, she did much better. But her score still was not high enough—she got rejection letters from more than a dozen medical schools. “For the first time in my life, I began to doubt my dreams about becoming a doctor,” she said. 

But Stella persevered and took the MCAT a third time, and while waiting for the results, she entered the master's degree program in public health at Drexel University in Philadelphia. This time, she got a competitive score on the MCAT, and while completing her master’s program, she re-applied to medical schools. Stella was accepted by her top choice—Meharry Medical College, a historically black institution with a special focus on providing health care to underserved populations.

After earning her master’s degree in public health at Drexel, Stella moved to Nashville and began her studies at Meharry. “The journey through medical school has not been an easy one at all,” she says. But despite the intense and often overwhelming demands, Stella has made time to volunteer at a student-run clinic that provides health care to people without insurance, and she also has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity.

During those difficult years when it looked like she might never make it to medical school, a number of people urged Stella to give up on her dream. But she found strength in the support of her family, friends, and former UHart professors.

“Surround yourself with positive people” and be willing to ask for help, Stella advised students at the ceremony for the Hillyer College Outstanding Young Alumna Award. “Remember that your dream doesn’t have an expiration date.”

Stella-Maris Ogwu '06, '08 expects to graduate in May 2016 from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn.  She hopes to complete a residency in pediatrics, and eventually open a medical clinic for children in her native Nigeria.

Stella-Maris Ogwu '06, '08 expects to graduate in May 2016 from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. She hopes to complete a residency in pediatrics, and eventually open a medical clinic for children in her native Nigeria.

Pictured at the Nov. 5 ceremony for the Hillyer College Outstanding Young Alumna Award are (l-r) Hillyer student Miguel Badillo '19, who helped present the award; award recipient Stella-Maris Ogwu '06, '08; Hillyer Dean David Goldenberg; and Vice President of Institutional Advancement Christine Pina

Pictured at the Nov. 5 ceremony for the Hillyer College Outstanding Young Alumna Award are (l-r) Hillyer student Miguel Badillo '19, who helped present the award; award recipient Stella-Maris Ogwu '06, '08; Hillyer Dean David Goldenberg; and Vice President of Institutional Advancement Christine Pina