’Tenacious’ dental student navigates detours

Uriel Vasquez Rios says several unexpected detours helped him to grow and to learn to navigate through challenges.

"Things did not always turn out as I had planned, and I needed to learn to be tenacious," says Vasquez Rios, a second-year student in the Doctor of Dental Surgery program who was just elected again as president of his class.

Vasquez Rios didn’t get into the University of Minnesota after graduating from Maple Grove Senior High School. He took a year off to work, earned an AA degree at North Hennepin Community College, and then completed an associate’s degree in dental assisting from Hennepin Technical College. His training enabled him to gain experience in a dental office as he pursued his bachelor’s degree, first at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and then at Hamline University.

"When I did not get into the University of Minnesota after high school I was so disheartened," he says. "But I see now that I got a good education and I used the opportunity to develop as a more mature adult. I also learned that if you stay with something, you will get there."

Vasquez Rios says he draws much of his inspiration from his father, who moved from Mexico to Maple Grove 25 years ago for a job in electrical engineering. "My parents are the biggest inspirations in my life," says Vasquez Rios. "My dad gave up so much to bring us here to have more opportunities. I want to be sure I make the most of the opportunities I have."

Including several trips back to Mexico to see family, he says he has seen both there and in the Twin Cities how unmet oral health care needs can lead to serious health concerns. His long-term goal is to practice in a community with Latino and Hispanic populations using his first language, Spanish.

As class president this spring, Vasquez Rios says he learned to keep calm and reassure his classmates. "We had just started to use our hand pieces in the lab, and that was exciting," he says. "Then suddenly we were all at home and isolated. I realized quickly that I needed to be the positive one, absorbing fellow students’ questions and frustrations. ... We have a good supportive class and we will get through it together."


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