Perseverance and purpose led Vasquez Rios to dental school

Uriel Vasquez Rios is proud of his non-traditional path to dental school. Now entering his second year of the Doctor of Dental Surgery program, he says several unexpected detours helped him to grow and to learn to navigate through challenges.  

“Things did not always turn out as I had planned, and I needed to learn to be tenacious” said Vasquez Rios, 28, who was just elected president of his class for the second consecutive year. “I learned to just focus on the specific challenge in front of me and not get caught up in the lofty goal of becoming a dentist.”

After graduating from Maple Grove Senior High School, Vasquez Rios took a year off to work. He then enrolled at North Hennepin Community College where he earned an Associate in Arts degree. Following this, he completed an Associate of Applied Science degree in dental assisting from Hennepin Technical College. The training enabled him to gain experience in a dental office while earning money as he worked toward his bachelor’s degree, first at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and then at Hamline University.

“When I did not get into the University of Minnesota after high school I was so disheartened,” he said. “But I see now that I got a good education and I used the opportunity to develop as a more mature adult. I also learned that if you stay with something, you will get there. My experiences, good and bad, are an advantage.”

Vasquez Rios says he draws much of his inspiration from his father who moved from Mexico to Maple Grove 25 years ago for a job in electrical engineering. After years of working hard, living alone while learning English, his father was able to save enough money to bring his wife and four children to Minnesota. (Alberto Vasquez Parada completed a Master’s in Business Administration at the U of M Carlson School of Management in 2014.)

“My parents are the biggest inspirations in my life,” says Vasquez Rios. “My dad gave up so much to bring us here to have more opportunities. I want to be sure I make the most of the opportunities I have.”

On several trips back to Oaxaca, Mexico, to see family, Vasquez Rios says he noticed a difference in the availability oral health care in his family’s home town. He says he has seen in Mexico and in the Twin Cities how unmet oral health care needs can lead to serious health concerns. His long-term goal is to practice in a community with Latino and Hispanic populations, using his first language, Spanish.

As class president during the rapid transition to online coursework due to COVID-19 this spring, Vasquez Rios says he has learned to keep calm and reassure his classmates.

“We had just started to use our hand pieces in the lab, and that was exciting,” he said. “Then suddenly we were all at home and isolated. I realized quickly that I need to be the positive one, absorbing fellow students’ questions and frustrations. I cannot be the upset and anxious one.”

Today Vasquez Rios is looking forward to getting back into the lab soon to see his classmates, hone his skills and begin his second year in the DDS program.

“We have a good supportive class and we will get through it together,” he said.

Uriel Vasquez Rios
Uriel Vasquez Rios