Last Updated on July 16, 2004 by Paulette Brown-Hinds

By Chris Levister

Enter UC Riverside’s Thomas Haider Biomedical Sciences building and it’s a tangle of cadavers, strange instruments and words written on blackboards most of us can’t pronounce. Inside this highly charged cocoon, graduates Tiffany Hill and Aisha Nnoli are like tendons and muscles, a perpetual symphony.

In June, both received their bachelor’s degrees in biomedical sciences while at the same time completing their first year of medical school. Both are tenacious, scholarly, reserved and both, in due course, will help lead to the majority of physicians being women.

At a reception honoring the 2004 class of Biomedical Sciences graduates, Aisha was chosen “baby” of the class, a fitting distinction, having entered UCR at age 16.

Tiffany, the “mom” as one classmate called her, “She’s always after us to study hard and clean our ears. Just like mom.” Nuzzling with her six year-old-daughter Desiree, the distinction of a caring, no nonsense mom goes beyond her academic family. Tiffany became a single parent at age 16. Both Tiffany and Aisha will enter the second year of the once highly criticized, now restructured Biomedical Sciences program packing high honors.

Tiffany, who graduated summa cum laude, took home the Celso Gonzalez-Lopo award and a $500.00 scholarship. She will divide the summer between family and a physician shadowing externship at Riverside Community Hospital. Aisha graduated with several honors including the Ernst A. Noltmann Memorial Award and it’s accompanying prize of $2,500.00. She will spend time with family this summer before crossing the Atlantic to Sweden’s Lund University where she will participate in a highly coveted cancer research project.

Outside the classroom, the two women are as different as night and day. Aisha of Caribbean descent, comes from a close-knit family and the multicultural rough and tumble neighborhoods of Seatac, Washington. She attended high school just one year before entering college on a scholarship through a ‘gifted’ program called Running Start. “As a child I volunteered at a soup kitchen. I saw rampant diabetes and other diseases. I felt powerless to help. I think the most enduring power is power to do good.”

Tiffany balances parenting with an almost incessant thirst for knowledge. The product of a single parent home, she knows where to go for comfort: to Oakland and mom. “She’s my best friend and supporter,” she said.

Her sister, Vennessa, is a third year honors student at UCR.

“Medicine, I think, is the most humanitarian endeavor anyone can do,” says Aisha, whose childhood aspirations evolved early and whose college honors didn’t come easy. “This is my passion. The curriculum was very challenging. I struggled at the beginning. I was lonely and far from home. Invitations to party and date were everywhere. I had to set a goal and stay focused,” she says. As for the Biomedical Sciences program, “We’re like family here. Everybody is pulling for the same prize.” She credits her survival to her biological family, her professors, student advisors and the program’s interim Dean Dr. Craig Byus,

“He’s always smiling. I light up when he comes around because I know no matter how tough things get, he’s always willing to help me stay focused. I guess that’s a change from the way things used to be here,” she says.

Staying focused is a mantra Tiffany swears by. “You can’t let the rough spots and naysayers blur your vision. Yes, I’m a single mom. There were those who didn’t believe in me. As a woman I’m helping to change the face of medicine, but those are all secondary to why I’m here. I want to become a doctor. If I allow secondary nuances to become barriers, I’m defeated.”

Tiffany wants to practice family medicine. She credits Kathy Jones, director of the campus honors program and the Vines, a Black physicians mentoring partnership, for supporting her dreams. “Their guiding hands helped me stay focused while gaining knowledge and confidence. As people we can’t look for mistakes and defeat in others. Find the good in others. It’s all around you, she says.” Find it, showcase it, and you’ll start believing in it.”

Aisha hopes to blend her humanitarian and research interests with oncology and surgery. “I want to form a bridge between compassion and advanced research to help prevent and treat the ravages of cancer.” Her advice to aspiring medical students is “be aggressive about securing research internships and doctor shadowing experiences. Don’t be afraid to ask for resource help. Study abroad.

These experiences can help broaden a student’s view of life outside the classroom environment.” Aisha also advises, that involvement in campus student programs and community outreach projects can offer rewarding opportunities for improving the quality of life for others. “Don’t limit yourself,” she says.” The only limits are the ones you put on yourself.”