A decade in the making

Graduate Courtney Williams
May 23rd, 2023

Courtney Williams, class of 2023

As Courtney Williams graduates with the class of 2023 May 26, she will have reached a milestone on a journey that began almost 10 years ago with Texas A&M School of Dentistry’s Summer Pre-Dental Enrichment Program (SPEP).

“By the time I graduate, I’ll have been on this campus 10 years,” Williams said. “After I graduate, I’ll be specializing in periodontics here at the school, too, so I have three more years to go.”

Williams, who was born and raised in Dallas, has had an interest in dentistry since childhood. She recalled when she was 4 years old, putting staples on her teeth as if they were braces, and she was always curious during her own dental care and cleanings. She also enjoyed shadowing dentists as a teenager and watching the doctor-patient bonds grow. Williams said her interest in dentistry was always just a natural extension of her intellect and personality, and from a practical standpoint, the career brings together several key elements she desires in a job: working with colleagues, using her hands and helping others.

She started formally exploring dentistry early on, thanks in part to her father, who in 2013 told her about SPEP.

“My dad found out about this summer program, and he knew I had some interest, so he encouraged me to apply and give it a shot. I have him to thank for that,” Williams said. “It was the SPEP program that got me invested in dentistry, and I kept going every summer and fell in love with it.”

The SPEP programs are open to students from 10th grade to post-baccalaureate. Participants learn about the dentistry field, participate in hands-on laboratory exercises, investigate dental topics and learn study strategies, all of which increase their competitiveness for admission to college and dental school. Williams said during her SPEP years, she especially enjoyed learning how to make wax fillings, making casts of teeth, and getting to know some of the school’s “amazing” faculty and staff, one of which was Dr. Kerin L. Burdette.

Burdette, clinical assistant professor and director of the Office of Student Development, actually knew Williams from early in life; they both attend the same church. Burdette was one of the first people Williams approached when expressing an interest in dentistry and she even shadowed Burdette. When Williams enrolled in SPEP, Burdette was impressed by her work ethic and drive.

“She’s one of those students who would come to you with a question, make sure she understood it, and go back and do exactly what she needed to do.  You didn’t have to hold her hand,” Burdette said. “She’s self-directed. She could do the work, but if she had a question, she would come to you. Once she had clarification, she was good to go. Not only was she a hard worker; but she was also just a good person to be around.”

Williams said Willie Alexander and Janie Villarreal, both of whom work in the Office of Student Development and with SPEP, were the first people on campus to make the school feel like home.

“They really created a supportive and encouraging environment in the program,” she said. “They poured themselves into their work. It was thanks to them that I was such a strong applicant when it came time to apply for college and later dental school.”

Alexander and Villarreal knew Williams as a respectful, friendly person who took a leadership role among her peers. They described her time in SPEP through high school and college as one of striving for excellence and working hard with a smile on her face. Even after the pre-dental programs, as a dental student she would still come by to chat and offer a hug, they said.

“It was a pleasure having her in the high school programs; I enjoyed working with her,” Alexander said. “I’m so proud to see her continue on her path.”

“She’s always going above and beyond, anything she’s asked,” Villarreal added. “She’s just someone who’s very committed and knows where she’s going, a strong woman who makes her decisions well. She’s going to be a great person in the community, a role model.”

Following high school, Williams attended Washington University in St. Louis where she earned a degree in biology, with minors in sociology and Arabic studies. When she returned to Texas A&M School of Dentistry as a D1, Williams dove into her coursework and multiple student organizations. She volunteered with LIGHT, the Asian Student Association, the student council, the dental fraternity Delta Sigma Delta and the school’s pre-perio society. She also worked with the campus chapter of the Student National Dental Association and found the activities rewarding.

“I was co-organizing a 9-to-3, all-day event for these pre-dental students and students trying to get into dental school,” Williams said. “We had the admissions department come and speak, four or five speakers and then we had a dentist and dental student panel to answer questions. We had over 100 students register for the event. It took four or five months to plan, but when all was said and done, it was awesome to put together and help people who had a similar interest in dentistry as I did.

“After participating in many pre-dental events, it feels good that I was able to take all the help that I received over the years and share that with the next group of incoming students.”

Volunteering with student organizations in general were a way for Williams to “pay it forward” and it gave her a sense of perspective, she said. She is proud of the hard work she put in to achieve her goals, but she recognizes she did not do it alone.  Williams said there are many people behind her, who have helped and supported her along the way.

“With friends spanning multiple classes, it’s nice being able to learn from the class before me and to share advice and experiences with friends in the class after me,” Williams said. “With volunteering, it’s fun to be able to give back to the community.”

After walking across the stage during commencement May 26, Williams will start her periodontics specialization June 22. Her interest in periodontics happened unexpectedly, she said, during an 8 a.m. class on the fundamentals of the periodontium. She said that particular lecture helped her finally understand concepts from previous courses about bone metabolism and bone health and it helped her grasp how microbiology has tangible impacts on oral health. As her interest increased, she shadowed multiple perio procedures, such as implant placements and tissue grafts. She also assisted in surgeries with the residents and did lots of observations. After these experiences and speaking with several people in the perio field, she knew it was a specialty she wanted to pursue.

“I am very excited to start this new journey soon and look forward to providing this type of care to my patients,” Williams said. “I’m grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had and to get a good education. I’m set up to be successful, and I’m very thankful for that. It’s an honor to get my dental degree where my interest first started.”

— Caleb Vierkant

You may also like
Pillars of the field
Like father, like daughter
Smiles we remember
Faculty offer final tips to class of 2023