Meet Our People – Tom Oliver, Juana Reyes, & Annie Le

Tom Oliver, Juana Reyes, and Annie Le.

From left, Tom Oliver, Juana Reyes, and Annie Le.

All stories by Paulina Laroya

Tom Oliver

Tom Oliver

Tom Oliver

In the quiet of the School of Medicine Education Building, the persistent ringtone of Tom Oliver’s phone resonated down the hallway. Oliver excused himself, answered the call, flipped to an open page on his clipboard, and began making a last minute revision to the interview schedule of the faculty candidate who was visiting that day.

The project coordinator in the School of Medicine’s Division of Biomedical Sciences has been a hard man to catch in recent weeks, as he and his colleagues have spent hundreds of hours coordinating the interview schedules for potential faculty members who hope to join the University of California, Riverside as part of its cluster hiring initiative, which promises to add 300 new faculty members to the campus over the next few years.

The last-minute phone call was nothing new for Oliver, who has been heading up interviews for research clusters in neuroscience and healthy aging. He is responsible for everything from coordinating candidate interviews and presentations to escorting the candidates around campus once they arrive.

“Tom has been simply transformative for biomedical sciences,” said Monica J. Carson, Ph.D., professor and chair of biomedical sciences. “He is a bundle of energy, a breath of fresh air, and good cheer. No matter how much you throw on top, he says, ‘not a problem, we’re going to go for it’ — and it happens. I really don’t see how we could do anything without him at this point. He’s proactive, a problem solver, knows how to bring things up in a positive, proactive way so we can solve them. He’s helping us to step up our game and ‘level up’ and I am glad he’s here.”

While creating an agenda for a couple individuals may seem straightforward, the task can be extremely challenging when multiple candidates are scheduled in one week.

Further complicating matters is the multidisciplinary aspect of the cluster hire process. Since the hires are affiliated with multiple academic departments, Oliver also must take their departmental needs and challenges into account as well as have a good idea of the type of candidate that the search committee members are looking for.

“The time it takes to set up an agenda varies, but it usually takes about two weeks,” he said. “Every day, I talk to one person, then adjust the itinerary, so the logistics don’t have one person going to the School of Medicine Research Building, then going across campus to the psychology building, then back to the research building. This would also mentally prepare the interviewer so they’re interviewing people from the same department at the same time and not jumping around if they’re being considered by multiple departments.”

“Prior to their arrival, we handle the flight, shuttle, and hotel through coordination with the Business Operations team,” Oliver said, adding that his co-worker, administrative assistant Lexie Timothy, also shoulders a great deal of the work. “Once they’re here, we handle all their meals, too.”

“Lexi is handling more of the student aspect, and inviting the graduate students to the lunches and the candidates’ first talk. Then she retrieves evaluations of the speakers so the search committee can have not only faculty comments, but students’ comments, as well; having this input is priceless because these will be prospective professors. So student interaction and watching the candidate present is important,” he said.

Once each candidate completes their visit, however, there’s still much to do.

“After the visit we need to report the expenses,” he said. “The faculty give me all their receipts — keep in mind, that’s about five meals per candidate, one individual expense report for each receipt, then each receipt has to be submitted on a single ticket.”

The next cluster hire is BREATHE, which stands for Bridging Regional Ecology and Aerosolized Toxins to understand Health Effects. The cluster, headed by Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Sciences David Lo, aims to develop multidisciplinary research projects to study the health impacts of air quality changes, such as those resulting from chronic drought, climate change, and resulting ecological change.

“We haven’t started yet,” Oliver said, “but they got the paperwork in and Marisela Martinez and I will be heading that one next.”

Oliver, Timothy, Martinez and many others like them across the campus are the unsung heroes of the cluster hire  initiative — without them, little to none of this could happen. Despite the stress and the frantic energy, they are motivated by the importance of what they are doing for UCR.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into this process,” said Oliver, “but there is a great feeling of satisfaction when a candidate’s visit goes well and we know that we treated them well, showing just how special a place UCR is.”

Juana Reyes

Juana Reyes

Juana Reyes

Juana Reyes may have graduated from UC Riverside in 2012, but she has almost nine years of experience working at the university. And throughout her career, first as a student assistant during her undergraduate career and later as a full-time financial and payroll analyst, she has not only witnessed the growth of the School of Medicine, but played an active role in its development.

Reyes came to UCR from Oceanside, Calif. in 2007 and earned a degree in biological sciences with an eye towards a career in medicine. As a first year, she was in the Medical Scholars Program (MSP), a student pipeline program that prepares undergraduate students for health and biomedical research careers. She didn’t know it at the time, but her involvement in MSP would lead her to where she is now.

“I definitely appreciated the support from key individuals like Teresa Cofield, Irene Velazquez, Rachell Enriquez, and Dean Neal Schiller, who motivated me and all the MSP members to be our best and pursue our goals,” Reyes said, adding that she was encouraged by these supporters to apply for the part-time student assistant position in biomedical sciences after her first year.

Reyes said one of the highlights of working at the School of Medicine is seeing the impact that she makes, which reminds her of her days as an undergraduate student where she felt like “everyone was on your team and wanted you to succeed.”

“It’s interesting how the days have transformed from when I first started as a student assistant to now,” Reyes said. “I was helping out the unit with basics, and now, my primary focus is running data — looking at fund balances, reconciling funds, and problem-solving. Eight hours per day is just not enough. But being able to help others is my favorite part of the job — whether I refer someone to the appropriate contact or figure out how to balance a financial transaction — it all is going to affect something or someone.”

Reyes and her colleagues have faced challenges unique to the development of a new school, including having to create policies and procedures from scratch or adapting from those at similar institutions while adjusting existing processes to work more efficiently. All the while, Reyes found herself constantly challenged, making decisions crucial to the beginning stages of the School of Medicine.

“We had to fail several times to come up with something that worked for all involved,” Reyes said. “For those situations, you find solace in the support that you get from everyone around you; it’s humbling to hear that your opinion and suggestions matter.”

Still, this adds to Reyes’ satisfaction of contributing to the foundations of school’s growth, which is one of the reasons she chose to join the School of Medicine staff.

“It’s exciting to be a part of the mission,” Reyes said. “To be here and see the direct impact that the school is having on the community is thrilling. I remember having a conversation with a high school teacher about how the opportunities offered to her students were encouraging because the School of Medicine is in their backyard.”

“I’ve been a witness to the dedication that the staff, faculty, students, and community all have towards the School of Medicine’s mission and it’s just fantastic,” Reyes added. “I think it’s that kind of support that will ensure the school achieves greatness far beyond what can be measured.”

Reyes said she plans on continuing her education in graduate school, something she has been preparing for by taking part-time classes after work for the past two years. And while she may eventually leave UCR, her sense of belonging has never changed.

“The reason I’ve thrived here — I think — is that others genuinely want you to succeed, and they offer opportunities that will help someone shine,” she said. “Being able to see the growth and expansion of the School of Medicine is so fascinating; to be able to say that you’ve been here from the beginning is wonderful.”

Annie Le

Medical student Ann Le (left) poses with Assistant Clinical Professor Maegen Dupper.

Medical student Annie Le (left) poses with Assistant Clinical Professor Maegen Dupper, M.D.

Annie Le came to the UCR School of Medicine with a wealth of experiences already behind her. Upon graduating from UC San Diego with a bachelor’s degree in human biology and minors in history and health care-social issues, she continued her education with a master’s degree in public health (M.P.H.) at UCLA. Only a few years ago, Le was not as clear on her goals as she is now, but her experience as an involved student organizer was a major factor in shaping this driven and passionate individual.

“When I started college, I didn’t know exactly what I what I wanted to study, but I knew my passion: to learn more about the world and the sources of inequity and strife, as well as to situate myself in all of this,” she said.

Inspired by her high school experience, when she was involved with Model United Nations, nonprofits, and student service groups, Le became heavily involved in coordinating campaigns for social and environmental justice issues at UCSD. There, she served as the director of the Student Sustainability Collective and joined efforts with campus resource centers, student cooperatives, and progressive organizations.

“Through these connections, I became involved with action around educational and economic disadvantage, environmental racism and climate change, healthcare access barriers, incarceration, police brutality, workers and immigrant rights, and more broadly, structures of oppression,” Le said. “What was the most agitating to me was the influence of systemic harms on health outcomes and life chances. While maintaining involvement in organizing, I started to volunteer in clinics and hospitals to explore how medicine might be used in the service of social change.”

This is where she first realized the values that she aims to embody in her work, a realization that led her to create and pursue the path she is on now.

“I formed a guiding belief that all people should enjoy fulfillment, flourishing, and freedom from undue burden,” Le said. “My belief is that there could be a better, more just world, and that I can contribute to realizing it. I chose to seek both an M.P.H. and a medical degree to pursue this belief.”

After obtaining her bachelor’s degree, Le earned her M.P.H. with an emphasis in Community Health Sciences, learning to address health disparities in a way that now complements her studies at the UCR School of Medicine.

“I’ve been very excited to see how transferable my public health skills are to the medical setting,” Le said. “I am now more prepared to assess patient and community health in context, communicate health information, design interventions, and critically review literature for best practices.”

To Le, her time at the School of Medicine is not simply a classroom experience, but rather a major element in her goal to be a community-engaged primary care physician and a scholar activist. Her involvement as a health educator with the Prison Education Project and a volunteer at the Riverside and San Bernardino Free Clinics have led her to witness the importance of what she and her peers aim to achieve.

“For me, these opportunities have revealed the duty of clinicians to acknowledge power dynamics and our own blinders while seeking to learn about the life circumstances and barriers faced by our patients, and to affirm our patients’ dignity, assets, and right to health,” Le said. “One-on-one care has enriched my outlook on inequity because I am able to see how the broader social context manifests in personal narratives and experiences.”

Le looks forward to practicing interdisciplinary, team-based, and patient-centered primary care and is already exploring these fields as co-president for the Family and Preventive Medicine Interest Group. She also plans to be involved in community-based participatory research and grassroots organizing, overall channeling her career toward testing creative and collaborative solutions to improve conditions for marginalized communities. She currently directs research at the San Bernardino Free Clinic and will be conducting an environmental health assessment in South Los Angeles with Physicians for Social Responsibility – LA this summer.

“I believe that my role as a healthcare provider does not stop at the clinical encounter,” said Le. “I must also advocate toward transforming the context that shapes my patients’ lives and health.”

Though Le’s determination can be largely attributed to her experiences at UCSD and UCLA, her family’s influence helped make her who she is today.

“My parents have always been driven by their sense of purpose, and as Vietnamese refugees, they have modeled actively participating in and caring for their community. And as the youngest of four, I learn so much about living passionately from my brother and sisters, who are each medical professionals and artists.”

Le’s passion and persistence shows in all she does while studying at the School of Medicine. “I admit that I keep busy,” said Le, “but I absolutely love everything I’m doing.”

“I am overjoyed to be at a medical school with a mission that is so aligned with my values; I am constantly grateful for the faculty, staff, my classmates, and our community members. In applying to medical schools, I prioritized a supportive environment that would nurture my point of view,” Le said. “The UCR School of Medicine has more than delivered.”

At the School of Medicine, Le has stood out as an enthusiastically involved student. From presenting at the American Public Health Association annual meeting and CSU Long Beach’s Emerging Scholars in Social Justice conference, to starring in a School of Medicine photo novel project promoting HIV testing and being awarded the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Student Summer Fellowship, Le has indeed taken full advantage of the resources around her.

“These experiences nourish my current passion: to be generous with my time and energy and to push boundaries as a lifelong learner, while overall contributing to realizing a more just and healthy world,” she said.

New Staff and Faculty at the UCR School of Medicine

Recent Staff Appointments

  • KA Aguilar – Undergraduate Medical Education
  • Lauren Anderson – Undergraduate Medical Education
  • Deborah Deas, M.D. – Mark and Pam Rubin Dean and Chief Executive Officer for Clinical Affairs
  • Noelle Enguidanos – Residency & Fellowship Programs
  • Christina Granillo – SOM Student Affairs
  • Mignon Gray – SOM Research
  • Dolores Molina – Clinical Affairs
  • Daniel Nguyen – SOM Strategic Resource Center
  • Vince Ortega – SOM Strategic Resource Center
  • Elizabeth Partida – Biomedical Sciences
  • Ruben Ramirez – SOM Strategic Resource Center

Recent Academic Appointments

  • Jeffry Gill, M.D. – SOM Pediatrics
  • Alina Popa, M.D. – SOM Internal Medicine
  • Jose Quitain, M.D. – SOM Pediatrics
  • Jonathan Sorci, M.D. – Dept. of Family Medicine

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-2969

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