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Kathryn DelaCruz, Biology, Undergraduate

Access to dental school draws undergraduate to science at IUPUI

Kathryn DelaCruz | Biology, Undergraduate | Biology Department Since she was a first grader who drew a dentist when asked to portray what she wanted to be when she grew up, School of Science at IUPUI senior Kathryn DelaCruz has been captivated and challenged by the sciences.

By the time she completed school at Roncalli High School on Indianapolis’ south side, DelaCruz was intent on majoring in biology with the goal of becoming the dentist she drew as a 6-year-old. She explored various options but chose to attend IUPUI because it offered her advantages no other school in the state could provide – the opportunity to take rigorous undergraduate courses while being exposed to a dental school and a medical school.

“Having a dental school and medical school on campus really drew me to IUPUI. I didn’t know if I would be able to take advantage of them or not but I wanted that possibility. And now that I’m on campus I’ve learned from personal experience and heard from other students that dental and medical school faculty appreciate School of Science students and provide really great mentorship.”

On the path toward her ultimate goal of becoming a dentist and seeing patients with a wide range of oral health problems, DelaCruz is taking a rigorous undergraduate course load as a pre-dental biology major but has had time to pursue a variety of academic interests.

“Being a science major with lots of demanding courses makes it harder to be able to have time to study abroad but I was encouraged to do so and spent a month living with a Spanish family in Madrid. I’m a Spanish minor and this experience was a wonderful opportunity to improve my Spanish and get in touch with the culture,” she says.

Through the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program, which assists students from groups underrepresented in the sciences into labs very early in their college careers, DelaCruz has become deeply involved in research, spending the summer after her freshman year and much of her sophomore year in a laboratory in the Department of Oral Biology at the IU School of Dentistry. There, under the mentorship of dental school faculty and post-doctoral student Jun Sun, Ph.D., who taught her laboratory techniques, DelaCruz has helped investigate the effects of nicotine and cigarette smoke condensate on the cells that line blood vessels and the impact changes in these cells have on the cardiovascular system.

“People think about dentistry as just teeth, but it’s much more. It’s about oral health and health of the whole human body,” she said. "I really enjoyed my experience with this research project. It’s increased my interest in dentistry. I feel like I am doing what I was destined to do.”

That’s just the kind of reaction that Kim S. Nguyen, Ed.D., who has overseen the LSAMP Program at IUPUI since 2003, believes demonstrates the validity of early exposure to research and mentors and is likely to keep a student on track to graduating with a major in the sciences and propelled to a career in science.

DelaCruz’s lab experience was capped by a busy post-sophomore year summer preparing a scientific poster and oral presentation on her research in the lab of L. Jack Windsor, Ph.D., at the IU School of Dentistry. DelaCruz was awarded first place for her oral presentation at the statewide LSAMP research conference competing again students from Ball State, Indiana State, IU-Bloomington, IU Northwest, Purdue University – Calumet, Purdue University – North Central, and Purdue University in West Lafayette, the other members of LSAMP Indiana.

DelaCruz is a recipient of IUPUI’s prestigious Bepko and Norman Brown Diversity Leadership Program Scholarships. She is secretary of the newly formed Honors College Student Council and vice president of the Filipino Student Association. And she also is definitely on a trajectory from the School of Science to a graduate program and career in dentistry.

DelaCruz was named one of IUPUI’s Top 20 Females in 2011. Thirty-one students from the School of Science were among IUPUI’s “Top 100” for 2011 who were honored for their academic success, extracurricular activities, and civic engagement. The awards are sponsored annually by the IUPUI Alumni Council and the Student Organization for Alumni Relations (SOAR).

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