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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Passion for medicine, animals led students to URI and environmental scholarship

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 29, 2004 -- As Providence resident Opeyemi Odewale was growing up, he became more and more certain he wanted a career that would help people, and he eventually decided on becoming a doctor.

"My father wanted to be a doctor, but back in Africa where I was born, it just wasnít possible. Iím next in line, and by the grace of God it will be possible," said the freshman at the University of Rhode Island.

Justin Miranda is similarly driven, but he wants to focus his care-giving skills on animals. "Iíve always been interested in learning about life forms other than humans. For as long as I can remember, Iíve enjoyed the outdoors and all of natureís diversity. Iím leaning towards working with exotic animals in some capacity some day," said the New Bedford resident.

Both students found what they were looking for at the URI College of the Environment and Life Sciences, and both recently earned full-tuition scholarships through the U.S. Department of Agricultureís Multicultural Scholars program. Designed to encourage under-represented students to study environmental, food and agricultural sciences, the scholarship was awarded to Odewale and Miranda based on academic achievement, letters of recommendation, personal interviews, and evidence of interest and commitment to studying the required subject areas.

While heís already looking forward to medical school, Odewale is currently working toward an undergraduate degree in microbiology. "I like to focus on something small," he said. "I donít like the big picture. I like the smallest picture."

For Odewale, who graduated from Shea High School in Pawtucket last May, earning the scholarship eased a major burden on his family. "The stress I had the first semester is reduced because of the scholarship. Thereís five children in my family, and two of us are in college, so now my parents wonít have to pay so much any more."

Although heís still just a freshman, Odewale has already taken on a leadership role at URI, serving as the freshman representative to the campus chapter of the NAACP. "I like to be a well-rounded person. Iím into sports, academics, everything I can," he noted.

Mirandaís passion remains on animals. "It started with insects and amphibians at age five, and then I became interested in reptiles. I convinced my mom to allow me to breed reptiles, and before I knew it I had quite a collection that included bearded dragons, leopard geckos, snakes, and invertebrates."

He carried his interest to another level when, as a senior in high school, he became an animal care intern at the Buttonwood Park Zoo in New Bedford. Miranda assisted the zookeepers in daily animal care, including diet preparation, feeding and cleaning of the carnivores, elephants and domestic animals. "It was an experience that confirmed what I had always felt -- that I was intended for a career in animal sciences."

The USDA scholarship has helped Miranda transition from high school to college. "I feel quite fortunate to receive the scholarship, partly because it provides me with support by being connected to college staff that I can seek out for guidance as mentors," he said.

The Opportunity Scholars program now supports nine students at URI in five different areas of study. Applications are now available for the fifth year of the program. For additional information or to apply, contact Kim Anderson at 874-5026 or email kand@uri.edu.