UF College of Dentistry third-year dental student Ana Laura Arencibia is the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Darshan Patel – Maverick Award Scholarship, established by the Patel family in memory of Darshan Patel, D.M.D., who graduated in the UF College of Dentistry D.M.D. Class of 2015 and passed away in 2018 after a courageous battle with brain cancer.
“I am deeply appreciative of the support of this scholarship,” Arencibia said. “It has been very hard to get to where I am today, but I have learned that perseverance and commitment will always lead to success. This scholarship will not only help finance my dental education, but it is also proof that hard work always pays off. It is fuel to my determination to succeed and become the best dentist, daughter and peer I could be.”
About the Scholarship
The Patel family established the Maverick Award Scholarship to honor Darshan. Patel was a free-spirited person with a unique sense of creativity and a knack for understanding and establishing relationships with people from all walks of life. He was a person who not only created his own path forward in the face of adversity, but also challenged norms for the betterment of others.
In memory of Patel, the Maverick Award scholarship recognizes third- and fourth-year dental students in good academic standing who have overcome great personal adversity and demonstrated extraordinary determination and perseverance in pursuit of a dental education, while also demonstrating outstanding compassion, leadership and creativity for serving patients in dental clinics and through community engagement. Award nominations are submitted by peers, faculty and staff.
Arencibia, a Cuban-American who was nominated by two fellow classmates and peers, has a story of resilience, determination and sacrifice through her winding journey to the UF College of Dentistry, all while providing an endless amount of support, inspiration and encouragement to everyone who crosses her path.
“At 18 years old I was accepted into dental school in Cuba, but early in my first year I had the opportunity of a lifetime: to leave Cuba and come to the United States,” Arencibia said. “Although I was on my way to my dream career as a dentist, I knew that coming to the U.S. would be better for me and for my family’s future. I moved to the United States by myself when I was 19 years old. All my family is still in Cuba, so it has been very difficult for me to get used to the separation and distance between us. Although coming to this country has allowed me to pursue academics more freely, it has not been without great difficulties.”
After moving to Miami, Arencibia had to wait a full year to become a permanent U.S. resident and complete two years of English classes before she could take a college entrance exam. She did not qualify for financial aid; her parents were in Cuba and could not provide proof of income. To earn a living and gain experience in the dental field, she became a dental assistant, and from 2011 until 2018 when she enrolled at UFCD, Arencibia was a full-time student and worked full time en route to earning her associate’s degree at Miami Dade College, followed by her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences at Florida International University.
“I have always been attracted to dentistry, as my parents and grandparents are missing most of their teeth. I could always see how greatly that affected their lives,” Arencibia said. “My motivation to help people in my community was another reason that led me to choose dentistry as my profession.”
Arencibia has immersed herself in the UFCD culture as a member of the American Student Dental Association, Student National Dental Association and the American Association for Women Dentists. She has given back to other students by serving as a tutor for five courses at UFCD the past two years.
“It takes a great deal of grit and tremendous passion to make it to this point in dental school considering the obstacles she has had to overcome, which is why I nominated Ana Laura for the Dr. Darshan Patel – Maverick Award,” classmate Gabriela Portmann said. “She is so deserving because of her involvement in dental service opportunities and community involvement. She has spent entire Saturdays volunteering at the FreeD.O.M. Clinic, assists regularly at the Hispanic Hearts Dental Clinic that occurs monthly, and volunteers at the We Care Clinic. Her dental experience is part of the reason Ana Laura has perhaps the best hand skills in our class and understands the clinical aspect of dentistry while the curriculum is still didactic-heavy.”
“Dental school is challenging, but some people have it harder than others,” Portmann continued. “It is difficult to ask questions in class when speaking with an accent and to take exams when you are not a native English speaker. It is difficult to study for dental boards when you cannot afford the same study resources and also cannot afford to retake the exam. It is difficult to show up to your white coat ceremony when no family members can make it since they live out of the country. Despite the obstacles that she has faced, Ana Laura is filled with positive energy, gratefulness, and a passion for dentistry.”
Second-year Gator Dentist Cameron Kocan is equally thankful for the time Arencibia has devoted to tutoring and for her compassion as a fellow dental student.
“Ana has played a critical role in my dental school education by providing me with tutoring for both dental anatomy and operative 1 outside of normal class hours,” Kocan said. “She always puts everyone’s needs before her own. She contributes diversity to the class of 2022 as she is bilingual. She sacrifices attending tailgates so that she can come in on the weekend before our psychomotor. Even when she was studying for boards, she made time to send me last minute tips. She sends us good luck texts and is, overall, a charismatic leader with a passion for helping others succeed.”
Donating to the Fund
If you are interested in supporting the Dr. Darshan Patel — Maverick Award scholarship fund, please contact Rick Miller, senior director of advancement with the UF College of Dentistry, at 352-273-5779.