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By Stephen Sellner | Citizens Bank Staff
Alisha Jimenez-Thompson isn’t afraid to admit it: Growing up, she liked going to the dentist.
“I think it’s because they always told me I did a good job brushing my teeth,” Alisha laughed.
That’s right. In fact, she enjoyed her bi-annual dentist appointments so much that when her kindergarten teacher asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she didn’t go with the cliché answers like the rest of her classmates of president, superhero, or firefighter.
No, Alisha wanted to be a dentist.
These days, Alisha would make her kindergarten-self beam with pride. After graduating high school on Long Island, New York, she got her bachelor’s degree from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. Alisha then worked as a travel agent in Peru for three years before being accepted to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
After completing a one-year public health master’s program at Case Western Reserve, Alisha, now 26, is in the first of a four-year dentistry program at the school. She expects to graduate in 2022.
Alisha loves how dentists get to see the fruits of their labor every day. That’s what she particularly loves about her dentistry program at Case Western Reserve. As part of her training, she visited Cleveland public schools to perform preventive dental work on children. While there, Alisha referred urgent cases to nearby dentists since the program covered the costs of the dental visits for those who couldn’t afford it.
“It’s a lot of hands-on skills,” Alisha said of dental school. “You’re not just sitting in the classroom all day long.”
One of her biggest passions is providing dental care for people with HIV. As part of a research project for her public health program, she worked at a case management agency in Cleveland with low-income patients living with HIV.
“I started to notice there wasn’t a focus on oral health for these patients,” Alisha recalled.
It turned out the case managers weren’t trained to spot oral health issues in their patients. As a result, dental issues were not being addressed. Noticing the gap, Alisha took it upon herself to organize oral health training for all HIV case managers and social workers in the Cleveland area.
Alisha is certainly someone who takes matters into her own hands; she’s not one to wait for a problem to fix itself. She takes the same approach to financing her education.
Alisha’s parents are inner-city public school teachers. Although she never worried about dinner being on the table every night, there wasn’t a lot of disposable income leftover for college savings. But she had faith that everything would work out.
“I knew my parents had some money that they saved up during my lifetime, and some from my grandparents,” Alisha explained, “but I also knew it wouldn’t be enough to get me very far.”
But that faith paid off at Holy Cross. Worried that they couldn’t afford the high price tag, Alisha remembered how her mother pretended not to like the New England school. It was all an effort to protect their daughter from falling in love with a school they couldn’t afford.
Or so they thought.
Alisha applied anyway, and was awarded a merit scholarship that covered a large portion of the cost.
“My parents never wanted to say, ‘No, you can’t go there,’” she said. “Instead, it was, ‘It’s on you to figure this out.’”
It’s safe to say Alisha figured it out.
To help pay for her master’s program, she waitresses and bartends at a local restaurant on weekends. She’s also a cycling instructor at the gym (why pay for exercise when you can get paid to do it?) and she also works as a note taker for Case Western Reserve.
“I live for the hustle,” she laughed.
Still, taking on every side hustle imaginable is not enough to cover her tuition costs. Scholarships play a huge role in funding Alisha’s dream. Fortunately, in May 2018, Case Western Reserve’s financial aid coordinator sent an email to students about the $5,000 Citizens Bank Graduate Scholarship.
Naturally, Alisha pounced on the opportunity. The essay theme was, “If you had $100,000 to spend, how would you impact your community?” In her application, Alisha explained how the mouth is typically the first part of the body to reveal a potential HIV infection. Therefore, she’d use the $100,000 to implement HIV screening programs in local dental offices to catch the virus early on.
“Dentists could then refer HIV-positive patients to medical care to begin antiretroviral treatment as soon as possible,” she wrote. “Patients that have already been diagnosed with HIV that are on antiretroviral therapy and have undetectable viral loads cannot spread the virus.”
Alisha was awarded the $5,000 scholarship.
When it comes to applying for scholarships, Alisha encourages students to adopt the “apply for everything” approach.
“With the outrageous cost of tuition, something that’s a $5,000 scholarship can seem small,” she said. “Apply to everything you can because they add up.”
And don’t think of a $5,000 scholarship as only $5,000. Think of it as $5,000 plus interest since it’s money you won’t have to borrow through student loans.
“Then,” she continued, “focus on getting good grades, getting involved, and don’t forget to give back to your community when the time comes.”
Alisha will continue to apply for scholarships to fund her dream, but there’s one specific scholarship she has her sights set on. That’s the National Health Service Corps Scholarship for May 2019 and 2020, which would cover the complete cost of her tuition and a small living stipend in exchange for two years of service in an approved Federally Qualified Health Center.
Alisha applied once before and didn’t get it. But she’ll keep trying.
Knowing Alisha, how could anyone doubt her?
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