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A Student Perspective: The Road Not Favored

by Kalisha Nelson

Prior to receiving my driver’s license, my parents took turns driving me to the mall.  I was always annoyed that my dad would take the scenic route to get there instead of the expressway that my mom would take.  One day my dad commented on my irritable state.  He looked at me and said, “Eventually you will learn that despite the path you take, the most important thing is to arrive at your destination.”  Those words meant very little to me then, but now I can appreciate their value. 

Since I became interested in dentistry, I have sought various means of getting involved and learning more about the profession.  I actively participated in Xavier University of Louisiana’s (XULA) Pre-Dental Club, shadowed many dentists, and interviewed several dental students.  I went on a quest to obtain information about summer pre-dental programs.  I singled out the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Howard Summer Dental Pipeline Externship Program because of the goals and objectives for the externs.  Their objectives consisted of a vast compilation of activities: hands-on learning, attendance in dental lectures, and involvement in clinical settings.  I was accepted into the program, and the wonderful teachings and direct exposure from this program augmented my motivation and enhanced my education in the field of dentistry.

At the RWJF Howard Summer Externship Program, I was among a group of pre-dental students coming from various parts of the nation and was given the opportunity to be part of a fellowship.  This fellowship was a unique union of summer externs that were taken under the wings of several professors of Howard University dental faculty and selected dental students.  Under these wings, I received excellent guidance and leadership skills to direct my path into the field of dentistry.  The required courses for dental school admission were reviewed and a thorough list of additional classes to enhance dental school performance was provided.  More importantly, the program aided me in constructing a plan to reach my long-term professional goals.  Upon completion of this program, I was knowledgeable of the preparation for dental school, the expectations in dental school, and strategies for dental school success.  Foremost, I learned the “take-home” message was simple: Obstacles and challenges are NOT intimations of defeat!

When school resumed in August, I quickly and eagerly launched my plan.  Instead of taking frivolous classes, I decided to enroll in classes that were not required, but strongly recommended.  I also began preparing for the Dental Admission Test (DAT) and making sure that the Associated American Dental School Application Service (AADSAS) received all required information.  Everything was going as planned until the occurrence of an unexpected natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina was a life-altering experience.  With a moment’s notice, I was immediately removed from New Orleans, LA leaving behind my clothes and all possessions.  I traveled and stayed with relatives for many days in a nearby city in southern Louisiana until the roads were safe for driving.  When I finally arrived home in northeast Louisiana, I knew my troubles were just beginning.  I knew I had to be enrolled in school that semester if I wanted to graduate in the spring and continue with my plan to become a dentist.  I visited different colleges and explained my situation.  All of the schools welcomed me, but unfortunately they were not offering the classes I wanted or needed.  I tried one more school, and this school was able to accommodate me.  Although I was unable to enroll in the strongly recommended classes, I was very grateful to enroll in many required classes.  This college was none other than Grambling State University.

For the next few months, I faced many challenges and setbacks.  Although I was extremely grateful to be enrolled in school, I was also aware that I was several weeks behind.  I had to make up all of the work I missed outside of class hours and had to keep up with the current lessons during class hours.  While attempting to keep my head above water with my schoolwork, I had neglected preparation for the DAT.  Due to the hurricane, I had to change my testing location, which unfortunately changed the testing date and the amount of prep time.  I also was made aware that AADSAS had not received my transcripts. During this time, I did not know how to contact XULA Registrar’s Office because all of the phone lines were dead.  I had never felt so helpless; my AADSAS application was incomplete and there was nothing I could do about it.

Five months after Hurricane Katrina hit, XULA did something that few people thought was possible.  Classes resumed and the campus was revitalized.  When I returned to XULA, I felt that this terrible nightmare was coming to an end.  I had the phone numbers to call and the resources to assist me in getting my AADSAS application complete.  Unfortunately, I had yet to feel the effects from the chain of events of last fall.  My DAT score was below average, and more importantly, I failed to meet most deadlines for admission to dental school. 

During my first post-Katrina semester at XULA, I had a few disappointments; however, in those disappointments, I found a new level of determination and perseverance.  Although I took a few of the strongly recommended classes, I still did not get accepted into dental school.  In time, I re-took my DAT and scored higher.  Although I was awarded a Bachelor’s of Science degree, I re-enrolled in college the following fall to strengthen my science education.  Not only did I take all of the strongly recommended classes, but I continued to shadow dentists for the continual exposure.  Thinking back, much has happened since I left the RWJF Howard Summer Externship Program.  However, although life’s uncertainties were inevitable, the plan constructed was infallible.  The externship program had instilled in me that I must seek my goal tenaciously.  As a stronger candidate, I have re-applied to dental school under the proclamation that a blessing delayed is not a blessing denied.




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