When Bernice Rumala left Harlem in August, 2005, to study at the University of Toledo college of medicine, she wasn't counting on staying.
But the medical student said her community mentor, Toledo NAACP President WilliAnn Moore, has helped change her mind. "I feel very connected to this community," Ms. Rumala said, "so I guess there is no 'after Toledo' for me."
Ms. Rumala is being recognized for her academic medical research and is working to build mentoring programs to help disadvantaged Toledo high school students and draw more African-American students to her medical program.
Ms. Rumala's affair with Toledo began as a prospective student, when Mrs. Moore, who remains part of the African-American recruitment and retention subcommittee for the medical college, called her at home in New York.
"One thing that really stuck out about Toledo was the com-munity support," Ms. Rumala said.
Ms. Rumala had her pick of five medical programs, and she said Mrs. Moore's personal attention helped win one for Toledo.
"I said, 'Tell your mother not to worry,' " Mrs. Moore said of her first phone conversation with Ms. Rumala. The promise developed into a mentorship, in which Mrs. Moore took the medical student grocery shopping, taught her to drive, and introduced her to various churches.
Mrs. Moore "basically adopted me," Ms. Rumala said. Ms. Rumala credits that support for her academic accomplishments.
In April, she was given first-place honors by the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians for an academic paper about using minority student organizations to recruit diverse medical students, and for a poster presentation about how medical students perceive professionalism.
Last year, she was one of five people honored by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission for promoting cultural awareness in Ohio.
The honor came as she helped strengthen the Toledo chapter of the Student National Medical Association and conducted research about diabetes in African-Americans.
Ms. Rumala's latest efforts involve bringing University of Toledo medical students to mentor high school students at Scott High School.
She sees the Toledo high school as a place that mirrors the disadvantaged high school she came from in New York City, and believes she has a unique opportunity to show students that through her own actions they can succeed.
"I can relate to many of the students' experiences. I feel that I am more empathetic and I'm able to, I guess I'm able to encourage them. Because I know if I can do it, I know that someone else can do it with the right type of mentorship and resources," she said.
Ms. Rumala is helping a young UT student apply to medical schools. She plans to accompany the young woman on tours of various schools.
Mrs. Moore brushes off any suggestion that she deserves any credit for Ms. Rumala's success.
"She's very modest and I don't think that she should be," Mrs. Moore said.
"She's an asset to our community, and she's going to be a wonderful doctor, and the city of Toledo will truly benefit from her staying here because she truly believes in giving back."
- Bridget Tharp