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Keck students, benefactors celebrate success at Scholarship Luncheon

Donor Norene Zapanta with Maria Sandoval, recipient of the scholarship named for Zapanta’s late husband, Edward Zapanta, a USC neurosurgeon and the first Hispanic member of the USC Board of Trustees. (Photo by Steve Cohn)

By Ryan Ball

The daughter of undocumented immigrants, Maria Sandoval credits excellent mentoring for helping her become the first member of her family to graduate high school and college. Now in her third year at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, she’s getting another boost in her quest to become a primary care physician and practice in her underserved community in the San Fernando Valley.

Sandoval is the recipient of this year’s scholarship named for Edward Zapanta, MD, the late USC neurosurgeon and first Hispanic member of the USC board of trustees. She recently had to the opportunity to thank Norene Zapanta for continuing her husband’s support of Hispanic medical students. The two shared a meal at the Keck School’s annual Scholarship Luncheon, held on Oct. 2 on the Harry and Celesta Pappas Quad.

“I get to meet the person who believed in me and thought it was important to help others to become doctors and be successful,” said Sandoval. “I’m very grateful to have the honor of accepting this scholarship.”

“It’s important for the students to know that we’re here supporting them,” said Zapanta. “And then I hope they learn to give back. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

In his opening remarks, Henri Ford, MD, MHA, vice dean for medical education at the Keck School, thanked the donors for enabling the school to maintain its competitive edge.  

“Scholarships, as you know, are truly vital in continuing to attract the very top students,” Ford said, “and also for Keck to continue to expand its influence locally, as well as globally, in the medical arena.”

Ford noted that the generosity of donors has allowed the Keck School to increase its number of scholarships from 19 to 42 over the past two years.

Keck School Dean Carmen A. Puliafito, MD, MBA, added that it isn’t enough to attract students who are academically strong. “We’re looking to have a diverse student body with medical students from underrepresented minorities in the United States,” Puliafito said. “This is very important in the delivery of equal-access health care.”

Fourth-year Keck student Tavis Dickerson-Young was one of the scholars invited to share his story and discuss the impact scholarships have had on his education. Brought up by a single mother with limited financial resources, he managed to work and put himself through college. However, the high cost of medical education would have been an insurmountable obstacle without help.

“It’s because of your scholarship donations that I am able to pursue my dream of becoming a physician,” said Dickerson-Young. “While your contributions have made a substantial difference in our lives as students, what is greater is that you are also giving to all of the patients whom we will treat throughout our careers.”

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