Kiana Heredia '24 (Courtesy photo)
Each graduating medical class at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont holds a “class gift” fundraising drive that begins on Match Day during their senior year and runs through Commencement. For the recently graduated medical Class of 2022, that gift took on even greater meaning, as it was directed to the Collins Oguejiofor Diversity Scholarship established in honor of their former classmate who died unexpectedly at the end of their second year.
“One of the challenges we’ve faced together as a class has been loss and grief,” said class agent Luke Higgins, M.D.’22. “We grieved Collins’ passing as a community. I think it helped us process and respond and eventually take actions in honor of his memory.”
“In addition to the pandemic,” said Class President and class agent Patrick Clarke, M.D.’22, “Collins’ death triggered a huge cultural shift in the way we experienced medical school. The first year and a half was pretty standard—go to class, take tests—but then everything shifted. It's been lovely and heart breaking and really awe-inspiring how people have responded. I see people caring for each other in a way I hadn't seen before.”
“Something to know about Collins,” added Higgins, “is that he possessed a lot of qualities that I think people have to work very hard to develop—things like warmth and connection to other people. It came naturally to him.”
“His passing altered how we talk about death and dying and how we communicate with each other about difficult things,” said Clarke.
The Oguejiofor Fund, established in the fall of 2020 with gifts from family, students, faculty, staff, friends and the UVM Larner Alumni Association, quickly reached the $50,000 endowment threshold, meaning the fund will exist at UVM in perpetuity. The fund supports medical education scholarships for students from backgrounds similar to Collins and will forever reflect the heart of its namesake.
In April 2022, Class of 2024 medical student Kiana Heredia was named the inaugural recipient of the Oguejiofor Scholarship. Heredia received a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and hispanophone studies from Mount Holyoke College and completed a postbaccalaureate certificate in premedical studies at Columbia University prior to starting medical school.
“One of my goals in life is to highlight the power of representation and diversity within our society," said Heredia, who developed and hosted the first-ever “URiM Pathway to Pediatrics”—or UPP—event at Larner on April 30. The day-long program is designed for undergraduate college students from historically underrepresented and underserved backgrounds in Vermont, New Hampshire and upstate New York who are thinking about a medical career. Attendees participated in hands-on and interactive activities designed to provide a snapshot of what it is like to be a pediatrician.
In Higgins’ opinion, the Class of 2022’s support of the Oguejiofor Scholarship was a perfect way to honor their late classmate.
“Collins was very giving,” says Higgins. “There's really no better way to honor the memory of someone who was so supportive of other people than to continue that pattern and pay it forward.”
Visit the UVM Foundation’s Oguejiofor Scholarship web page.
(This article was adapted from a feature written by Annie Seyler and published in the UVM Medical Center Foundation/UVM Academic Health Sciences development office’s April 2022 “Giving” newsletter.)