By Nina Huang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Two University of Washington (UW) dental students recently were awarded prestigious scholarships from the American Dental Education Association (ADEA).
From moving to a foreign country at the age of 12 and learning English from shampoo bottles, to receiving a prestigious scholarship award from the ADEA, Min Lin has come a long way.
Now a second year dental school student at the UW, Min aspires to be an oral surgeon. She recently received one of two Crest Oral B Scholarship awards of $5,500.
Born and raised in Fuzhou, China, Lin moved to the United States when she was 12 years old. She attended middle and high school in Orlando, Florida and graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in chemistry.
“I am honored to be the first dental student from the University of Washington to receive this prestigious national award. This scholarship means a lot to me because I aim to strive for academic and clinical excellence and become a dental educator. As the first generation to go to college in my family, I did not have any career guidance from my parents, so I fully understand the importance of high-quality education and mentorship,” she said.
Lin chose to attend UW because of its high rankings and strong clinical programming.
“That’s something I really strive for, I strive for academic and clinical excellence,” she added.
Lin has a strong support system at the UW. She’s grateful for UW School of Dentistry Dean Dr. André Ritter, Dr. Susan Coldwell, Dr. Peggy Lee, Dr. James Newman, and fellow classmate Tyler Youn.
“I realized that I liked doing things with my hands and working on challenging stuff. When I was a kid, I knew I wanted to go into the medical field. I started learning more about dentistry and it’s a perfect career that allows me to have more personal growth and advancement in my life,” she said.
Lin has a brother who is six years older. They are the first people in their family to attend college. Lin said that her brother told her about the medical and dentistry fields and that’s where her excitement for those fields started.
“I started reaching out to local hospitals and dental clinics for shadowing opportunities, and started to prepare myself for my career plans,” she said.
Though her brother was also initially interested in medicine, he decided to pursue another STEM field—he’s an engineer in California now.
Coming from humble beginnings, her parents started working as farmers but are now construction workers.
Lin’s work ethic comes from her parents. They’ve always been very hard working and encouraged her to be a strong, independent woman.
Lin’s parents have always been supportive, and never pressured her to become a doctor.
“They just told me to focus on pursuing higher education and to have more personal growth,” she said.
Lin remembered her parents always encouraging her even to this day, and telling her to never give up.
“They’re always encouraging me to be a better person in general,” she added.
As a second year dental school student at age 32, Teddy Dong is older than most of his classmates, but his passion for dentistry and his mentor, Dr. Michael Hemingway, persuaded him to pursue dental school.
Dong grew up in Nanjing, China and moved to the U.S. when he was 16. He spent most of his time in Pasadena, California and received his dual bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and dental hygiene with a minor in film. He also received his master’s degree in hygiene from the University of California, San Francisco.
Dong started his career as a dental hygienist and worked for a few years in San Francisco before starting at the UW School of Dentistry in 2021.
“I got into dentistry because I’d never seen a dentist until I was 25,” he said.
“For my family, we didn’t have the culture to see a routine doctor. It’s pretty common for people outside of the U.S. in east Asia and southeast Asia. I didn’t have any pain, no dental cavities, so the first time I saw a dental chair was when I was 25. There was an open house for the school of dentistry, I loved it, and that changed my mind,” he said.
Like Lin, Dong loves pursuing more education and is determined to become an oral surgeon.
“I want to be a surgeon and affiliated with a hospital or dental school that I can give instructions to pre-doctoral students to future residents, so I can be part of the education field,” he added.
Dong almost pursued medical school, but his plans changed.
“I come from a family of a lot of domestic violence. I learned that we need to be responsible and ethical in treating other people with care. I gave up medical school because I wanted faster job opportunities to help my family at the time. That’s another reason why dental hygiene met what I was looking for at the time. After a few years, I feel sad in a way that I could’ve pursued my dream sooner,” he said.
“My parents gave me life lessons and a better life perspective to treat people well and with respect, I’ve become a stronger person with a stronger mentality,” he said.
Dong’s mentor before dental school, Dr. Hemingway motivated him to go to dental school.
“I thought I passed my prime age of studying, but he talked to me and motivated me. He pushed me out of my job to go to dental school,” he said.
Dong is also thankful for his network of mentors that includes Dr. Coldwell, Dean Ritter, Dr. Burke, Dr. Dillon, Dr. Melanie Lang, and Dr. Thomas Dodson and classmate Youn.
Dong is passionate about encouraging and inspiring more people from the Asian community to pursue their dreams.
“If we really want to do something, we can do it, we just need to be determined. My ultimate wish is to see more Asian people step up and be recognized and pursue their dreams to get what they want as their goals,” he said.
“I could not be prouder of Min and Teddy for their selection as recipients of these ADEA scholastic awards. This exemplifies the level of talent and commitment to dental education that is typical for our students at the UW. The ADEA/Crest Oral-B Scholarship that Min won is the kind of award that can truly have a lasting impact, since it encourages a career path that embraces teaching. As our senior educators retire, academic dentistry urgently needs more younger people to sustain dental education. Teddy’s ADEA/Haleon award also carries special weight since it is focused on excellence in preventive dentistry, which is one of the most important elements of our training. With dental student debt at record levels, scholarships are always important for us. However, it is especially gratifying when our students win these highly competitive national awards. Min and Teddy can take justifiable pride in this accomplishment,” Ritter shared.
Nina can be reached at email@example.com.