A day in their scrubs
Second-year dental student Ashly Okoli has found her voice, both as a writer and a former introvert.
“The first person who told me I was gifted in writing was my eighth-grade English teacher,” she says.
Her essay, “Cavities: What Are They and How Do We Prevent Them,” recently earned her one of four runners-up awards for the American Dental Association’s fourth annual Health Literacy Essay Contest for dental students.
“It was challenging to write scientific information at a level that could be understood by people of vast backgrounds and different ages, but it was humbling to realize there is a long road of work ahead of me to lead patients to the intersection of well informed and empowered to improve,” she says.
Although she actually considered a career as a writer, she says she knew that writer’s block would be an obstacle, possibly pushing her to the brink of procrastination. True to form, her award-winning essay was composed in one last-minute yet inspired setting, submitted right at its midnight deadline. Okoli also enjoys writing for fun, as witnessed by her blog. The topic? All things dental school, of course.
For anyone who knows her, it may come as a surprise that Okoli used to be the quietest girl in class.
“When I was in preschool, they actually called my mom and said, ‘Is everything OK with her? She does not talk at all.’ In fourth grade, I entered a
storytelling competition. We had to pick a children’s book and perform it in front of the school, so I chose Stephanie’s Ponytail. I won the schoolwide storytelling competition. That helped me discover my voice. I can get in front of people and I can speak, and I don’t have to be afraid. The words I have to say are valuable and meaningful.”
Hometown: Dallas. I grew up in Grand Prairie, a suburb. I moved there just before high school, moving from Irving, just right down the road.
Undergrad institution: The University of Texas at Austin. I can imagine all the Longhorns screaming, “Et tu, Brute?”
Why Texas A&M College of Dentistry: It felt like home. I participated in two summer programs here. Somebody told me, “You can write up everything on paper—the pros and cons—but at the end of the day, go with where your heart tells you.” That’s where you need to be, because you’re going to spend four very important years there. With all the stress you’re going to endure, you want the most enjoyable experience possible.
Dental school success strategy: I’m still trying to figure this out, but what I do know is that life is short; enjoy it.
How you unwind after a long day in lecture, lab or clinic: A long view of the back of my eyelids, also known as sleep.
Best dental school moment so far: Being in my first publication. At my D1-year Dental Olympics, I did a cartwheel and landed into the splits after the final dodgeball game. A photo is published in the most recent edition of the Burr.
Goal after graduation: There are two things I know I want to do: I want to work with kids and I want to work in academia. Dental education, for sure.
What people may not know about you: I love to talk on the phone, which I guess is a little different from Millennials, because a lot of people are not into phone talking. It’s more texting. I don’t like texting, but I love talking on the phone.