By Christina Boufis
Why choose oral health care as a profession? Why enroll at the Dugoni School of Dentistry? We’ve profiled four students from the Class of 2015, the first who will graduate from the new dental school downtown, to talk about what brought them here and what they were doing before they arrived. Here’s a peek at some of the interesting, unique and diverse students who exemplify this dynamic new class.
From Design to Dentistry
When Christian Favero, 29, made the decision to go to dental school, he received a lot of surprised looks from friends and family. An industrial designer for an action sports company located in Bluffdale, Utah, Favero already had a successful career in product design, where he developed backpacks and other equipment. But for him, the decision was a logical progression. “There’s an amazing overlap between dentistry and design,” Favero, a Brigham Young University graduate explains. “Aesthetically and even functionally, you very much need the skill set of a designer—the ability to mentally visualize your finished product, the ability to use your hands and instruments and technology to build things. I think that ties pretty closely to dentists who are going to restore teeth or perform surgery; they need to be able to see that end tooth or end structure in their mind before they begin.”
Favero knew that he had to “take the plunge” to go to dental school, and he found University of the Pacific a natural choice. “First and foremost was the amazing reputation. I’d heard people, including other dentists and students at other schools, talk about how much they wished they’d gone to Pacific.” Though he’d like to keep his specialization open for now, Favero, the son of an orthodontist, whose grandfather and uncle are also dentists, hopes to set an example for his own children. “As a new father myself, I want to give my children a good example of the importance of education and the importance of serving other people with a valuable skill set,” he says. “That’s the same example I had from my father and grandfather.”
Before he came to the Dugoni School of Dentistry, Cuauhtemoc (Temoc) Gonzalez, 32, a graduate of Stanford University, worked in the California Governor’s office training staff from various cities and counties on how to consult with Native American tribes. Gonzalez, who has a Mexican and Native American background, was tribal chairman for his tribe, the Miwok tribe in El Dorado County (and vice chairman before that). “I have a lot of experience working with underrepresented communities,” he says. His role was to help build understanding between the government and Native American tribes.
“Even though we all speak English, we’re not really speaking the same language,” Gonzalez explains. “I was training cities and counties in how to consult with tribes on the protection of sacred sites—places where tribes had ceremonies or gathered specific medicinal plants or buried their dead—and training the tribes on how to talk to the city and county, to get them to understand each other’s point of view, to work together to get some kind of mutual agreement about a site where there was proposed development, for example.”
At first glance, this kind of work may not appear to have much in common with dental school, but the emphasis on communication and cooperation has served Gonsalez well in both. “I love it here. It’s awesome,” he says. “Everybody seems very helpful, which I had heard about prior to coming to Pacific. The school’s reputation is that everybody helps each other along.”
Gonzalez had worked in research after college, and, when he decided to return to a medical-related field, he knew dentistry and Pacific was the right choice. “I think its reputation—being able to come out of the school as an experienced clinician, as well as the three-year program, since I’m a little bit older than a lot of the students—was a definite consideration.” In addition, Gonzalez had heard his wife’s cousin, Dr. Eric McMahon ’05 speak very highly of the dental school, and her grandfather is also an alumnus from the Class of 1946.
What does the future hold for this former tribal leader? “I would hope that I’d be able to end up back in Sacramento or the foothills,” he says. “I would definitely like to give back through the practice of dentistry, if not to my own tribe then for some other Native American community.”
A Family Affair
You might think that having two sisters already enrolled at the Dugoni School of Dentistry would be an incentive for Tina Ngo, 22, to attend as well, but the San Francisco native almost didn’t apply because of that very reason. “There are both pros and cons,” Ngo says about having her sisters, Joanne, Class of 2013, and Jessica, Class of 2014, attend the same school. “I didn’t want them to influence my experience,” she says, which is why Ngo attended San Diego State University rather than University of California, Davis, as her sisters did.
But Ngo discovered something surprising when she applied: both she and her sister, Jessica, recounted the same story in their personal statements. “We have the same life experiences,” explains Ngo. “We grew up without dental insurance, and that affected us in similar ways.”
The pivotal story? Ngo was in high school and crying in class because she had a terrible toothache. “My crown was shattered, so the nerve was exposed,” she explains. Her sister Jessica went to Rite Aid and bought a temporary filling mix, which she used to treat Ngo’s tooth. Did it work? “No, I swallowed it,” she says. But her love of dentistry was born.
Now several months into the first-year dental program, Ngo says she’s really happy she chose Pacific. “It’s actually really nice having both of my sisters here,” she says. “They’ve been very helpful.” As for what type of dentistry she might like to specialize in, Ngo hasn’t yet decided, though she likes working with children.
Although Ngo finds the classes at the Dugoni School of Dentistry difficult, she says, “Everyone helps one another, and treats one another with respect. So you get through it together.” Which when you think of it, is kind of like what happens in the best families.
From the time she was eight years old, Lauren Powell, 21, dreamed of becoming a dentist. “My brother had a palatal expander,” explains Powell, “and I just thought it was the coolest contraption. My parents were supposed to turn the key each night, and they couldn’t do it, so they asked me. I loved the small surface to work with and working with my hands.”
Then when she turned 12, Powell was probably one of the few kids excited that she was getting her own braces. “I was just so interested in how my teeth were moving,” she says. So she’d pepper her orthodontist with questions: “What are you attaching now? What are you moving now?”
Powell originally thought she might like to be an orthodontist, but it was the example of her family dentist, dental school alumnus Dr. G. Bruce Valentine ’69 of Modesto, California, that made Powell consider general dentistry. “He has been my dentist since I first went to a dentist, and my parents before me,” says Powell. “And I just love the family feel of his practice, of sticking with a family and seeing people grow and progress. He’s a great mentor and definitely had a large influence on my decision to become a dentist.”
Powell shadowed Valentine in high school, and it was he who told her about Pacific Pride Day, where she says everyone was so accepting and welcoming. “Even though I was 17, the students and faculty members answered all my questions and were so excited to have me there,” she says. “I just loved the family aspect and the involvement the school has with their students. Pacific is different from other dental schools,” Powell continues. “Students help each other out, and to me that was a huge deciding factor because I wasn’t from a family of dentists, so I really wanted to go to a school that would support me.”
Powell applied to the accelerated undergraduate honors program at Pacific’s Stockton campus, close to her home in Modesto, which she completed in three years, and is now happily at the San Francisco campus, fulfilling her lifelong dream.
These stories illustrate just four different paths to Pacific. Each member of the Class of 2015 has a unique story about how he or she became a member of the Dugoni School of Dentistry family. Collectively, they are embarking on the next step in a dynamic journey through dental education and the dental profession.
Christina Boufis, PhD, is a freelance health and medical writer from the East Bay.