To mark the graduation of the Class of 2022, Marketing & Communications is profiling several students who were nominated by staff and faculty for their contributions to the University and their potential to make a difference after graduation. For more information about 2022 commencement exercises, please click here.
Sandy Wang may be young, but she is a trailblazer.
The Riverside, Calif., native is the first of five children, a first-generation American, first in her family to go to college and, upon graduation from Detroit Mercy Dental next month, will be the first doctor in her family.
Wang credits a vibrant Detroit Mercy Dental alumni network for putting the school on the map when she was a University of California-San Diego (UCSD) undergraduate student looking at dental schools.
“There is a large number of Detroit Mercy graduates out there and they shared their experiences and I really loved the message of the school about growing as a leader in the field,” Wang said.
Detroit Mercy has a partnership that brings UCSD students to Detroit Mercy to spend a week at the school, living in the dorms on the McNichols Campus and sitting in on classes at the School of Dentistry. Wang participated in 2017 and as she heard more from current students then, Detroit Mercy leapt to the top of her list.
“I guess I got a good feeling about the school from the first Uber driver I had in Detroit,” she remembered. “I told him what I was doing and when I mentioned Detroit Mercy, he had nothing but great things to say and I thought ‘if that’s what the community thinks, it must be a good place.’”
She was thrilled with the School’s commitment to community involvement and the way students are encouraged to participate in organized dentistry.
Wang embraced that mission in many ways. As a student ambassador, she made sure students who, like her, came from across the country, felt welcomed and answered questions about her Detroit Mercy experience. She volunteered weekends at Detroit Mercy’s Malta Clinic, a student-run institution that provides dental care to underserved populations. And she is on the state and national boards of dental organizations.
“Detroit Mercy helps us understand that dentistry is more than just ‘drill and fill,’” she said.
The way Wang has thrived in Detroit has been an inspiration to her younger siblings and her parents, she said.
“My mother was a seamstress and my father worked at a shoe factory and I saw how hard they worked,” Wang said.
But despite their hard work, money was tight and certain things took a back seat to immediate needs. Dental care was a luxury they couldn’t afford. The entire family’s oral health suffered. It is what inspired Wang to follow her path to dentistry.
Yet when Wang told her parents she wanted to go to dental school, they were hesitant.
“They were business minded, and wanted me to go into business because they thought it would be more stable,” she said. “And they were really hesitant to send me to Detroit because it was so far away.”
In the end, they conceded, convinced by Wang’s passion for the field.
On breaks from school, Wang returned to California where she provided free oral health education to the Chinese immigrant community where she grew up.
Without knowing it, all this made a path that Wang’s brothers and sisters would follow. All four are in college – two in graduate schools – across the country. One of her brothers told her he never would have been able to do that if it weren’t for her.
“I didn’t realize what I did would have that kind of impact on them,” she said. “It shows that you can always inspire someone even if you don’t know you’re doing it.”
Wang is headed back to California with a one-year hospital-based residency.
“It was my first choice, and it’s very competitive,” she said. “There were 30 applicants and only four were interviewed. They were very impressed with what I have learned and much of it I learned from my work in the community.”
There might also be some teaching in her future, something Wang developed a passion for while helping one sister overcome a learning disability.
There is one other first that coming to Detroit Mercy has provided, and it’s one that’s especially meaningful for Wang.
Her parents called her one day about a year ago and told Wang they were coming to visit her.
“I thought they were joking,” Wang remembered. “They had never been to a dentist and drove from California to come to the school to be my patient.”
After the visit, Wang’s mom took her aside and said, “I’m glad that the first dentist I’m seeing in America is my daughter.”