Recent graduates take the LEAD
June 30, 2021
Just two weeks after their graduation ceremony, Dakota Miller, DDS, and Cynthia Uzoukwu, DDS, decided to return to the institution that trained them immediately. The pair chose to volunteer as instructors with the school’s Hispanic Center of Excellence which hosts a summer program for dental students each June.
The program, Learning Enhancement for Achievement in Dentistry (LEAD), prepares incoming first-year and rising dental students for the year ahead by conducting an intensive three-week boot camp.
The program’s curriculum is packed with opportunities that allow students to engage with classmates, faculty members, and student service representatives. Incoming first-year students can acclimate to their new campus and experience a preview of their classes from faculty and student instructors, all before their first day of dental school.
Other rising dental students have the opportunity to work with faculty at the San Antonio Christian Dental Clinic. Rising sophomores assist junior students in the clinic, a significant draw for the program.
Both Miller and Uzoukwu participated in the LEAD program in dental school and can personally attest to its benefits. Having access and learning from more advanced students greatly inspired Dr. Miller to give back this summer.
“As a dental student, I often looked up to upperclassmen for advice and tutoring,” she said. “Throughout and following dental school, I felt it was my duty to do the same.”
Dr. Uzoukwu’s motivation to volunteer is due to her experience as a former LEAD participant and her natural joy for teaching. While in dental school, Dr. Uzoukwu enrolled in the school’s Teaching Honors Program (THP), a program that exposes students to the academic arm of the dental profession.
“I have been teaching LEAD every summer since after my first year of dental school,” she said. “Dental school is tough, and I was very motivated to share what I had learned to get through it, but I wanted to do it in a fun and engaging way. The positive feedback and a genuine love for teaching are what keep me coming back each year.”
Considering advice they would give to dental students, they reveal strategies they found most helpful in pulling them through.
“Time management is everything in dental school,” said Dr. Miller, who is about to start her orthodontic residency right here at UT Health San Antonio. “I would schedule in my breaks, workouts, and meals and give them the same importance as study time.”
Dr. Uzoukwu, who is moving to Dallas, Texas, to begin practicing as a general dentist, recommends to “find your support group and speak up when you are struggling.”
“Let them be your sounding board of people who will speak life and positivity into your situation,” she said. “Don’t allow the negative voices in your head to be the only ones you are listening to.”
The Hispanic Center of Excellence is directed by Juanita Lozano-Pineda, DDS, MPH, associate dean of external affairs, and supported by a grant from the US. Health Resources and Services Administration. In addition to supporting dental students, the Center hosts pre-dental students by conducting a three-week preview of dental school each July.
For more information, visit the Center’s LEAD webpage