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CU School of Dental Medicine Commencement Ceremony

Advice for Future Dental Students from the DDS Class of 2022

CU Dental graduates share lessons learned and words of wisdom for future students

minute read

Written by Laura Ramsey on May 23, 2022

After four years of classes and clinical training – through a global pandemic no less – the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine DDS Class of 2022 is ready and eager to embark on the next step of their careers. But before they leave these harrowed halls, CU SDM Communications Manager Laura Ramsey asked some graduates to reflect on their time here, what led them to dentistry, and what advice they have for the next generation of students. Three common themes stood out: community, balance and believing in yourself.

Lean on your community for support.

“Reach out to others for advice, support, and critical feedback. Dental school is challenging and having a support system is crucial for your development as an individual and as a clinician.” - Aspen Peifer, DDS ’22

3-Aspen-PeiferPeifer, a Colorado native, always dreamt of being a student at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Before beginning her dental school career, she played NCAA Division I soccer and studied human biological sciences with a minor in biochemistry at the University of Montana, then received her master’s degree in biomedical sciences at Colorado State University.

She’s decided to pursue general dentistry because it is “an incredible way to help others and develop long-lasting relationships with patients and families.”

After graduation, she will be working as an associate dentist at a dental practice in her hometown of Colorado Springs.


“Make mentors early on and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. As students, we are not supposed to have all the answers. I have learned that hard work and determination are just a base line and that I am capable of much more with support from my faculty, staff, and classmates.” - Dijana Elmejdoubi, DDS ’22


Elmejdoubi grew up in Bosnia during civil war times and credits her mom for keeping her safe, fed and educated. She came to the US in 2000 after competing in the 400-meter dash for Bosnia-Herzegovina in the Sydney Olympics.

At CU School of Dental Medicine, she’s held leadership positions in the Student Professionalism and Ethics Assocation, the Endodontics Interest Group and the student-run DAWN Clinic. She’s been accepted into the endodontics residency program at Louisiana State University in New Orleans starting this July.

She would especially like to thank her husband of 12 years, Yousri, who is her biggest supporter.


“Don’t stress about the small stuff. Have a support system and find community to do life together and ease the stress of dental school.” - Erica Odegard, DDS ’22


Born and raised in Fargo, North Dakota, Odegard chose CU School of Dental Medicine because of the rigorous training, the Advanced Clinical Training Service (ACTS) Program, and the ability to engage in hobbies outside of school like snowboarding, hiking, camping and rollerblading.

While earning her undergraduate degree at North Dakota State University, she had the privilege to travel to Haiti multiple times and engage in mission work, where she quickly learned that dentistry is significantly different there than in the US.

After graduation, she hopes to provide dental services to the people of Haiti as frequently as possible.


Find a good balance.

“Be mindful and tend to your inner world during school. Pursue hobbies, allow yourself some down time and don’t let personal growth fall at the expense of growth as a dentist. Find the balance.” - Jaryn Dupree, DDS ’22


A strong passion for science led Dupree to explore dentistry as a career path.

In addition to participating in humanitarian work in Honduras, his favorite rotation at CU SDM was the emergency clinic: “I particularly enjoy the style of dialogue with patients that helps identify the source and primary cause of pain. It always feels like genuine teamwork and it’s great when the patient can leave with a problem solved.”

Next year, he’ll be starting a general practice residency in Seattle at the University of Washington.


“Remember to take a step back occasionally. It is so easy to get bogged down in the “now” that the gravity of what you’re doing gets lost. You’re studying to be a doctor and you get to see this profession through the lens of a public health professional, which is a totally unique experience. It’s difficult and grueling, but it’s also amazing to be here studying both of your passions together.” - Jennifer Stobbs-Vergara, DDS ’22, MPH ’22


Stobbs-Vergara will be the first student to graduate from the Doctor of Dental Surgery and Masters of Public Health Dual Degree Program here at CU Anschutz Medical Campus. She says her most fulfilling experience at CU has been her ACTS rotations where she could use and practice both degrees, connecting back to how she wants to change the way public health and dentistry interact.

Next year, she will be at Denver Health for a one-year general practice residency program.

Also earning their Masters of Public Health degrees this year as part of the dual degree program are third-year dental students Juan Rodriguez and Gilbert Fru.


Believe in yourself.

“Your biggest competition in life is yourself! Ultimately, you control your own experience in dental school and in the profession.” - Keyonnia Shaw, DDS ’22


As a sophomore in high school, Shaw participated in a pre-college program that introduced her to the dental field, and she’s been pursuing dentistry ever since.

She studied health sciences at Aurora University in Illinois in the pre-dental program. She gained experience as an orthodontist assistant prior to attending CU SDM and very much enjoyed the orthodontics course series.

After graduation, she will be joining Denver Health in the general practice residency program, with the end goal of becoming an orthodontist.


“The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that we should never underestimate ourselves. From caring for patients, to advocating for the dental profession, I’ve discovered that with the help of supportive people around you, anything is possible.” - Jakob Holtzmann, DDS ’22


Last summer, Holtzmann had the unique opportunity to serve as a Junior Commissioned Officer of the United States Public Health Service in Shiprock, New Mexico, where he practiced under the supervision of doctors who had a passion for public health dentistry.

In addition to public health, he has found a passion for pediatric dentistry: “I believe that kids are vitally important to the future of our society and look forward to looking after them throughout my career.”

After graduation, he’ll be moving to Seattle, Washington, to start a two-year Pediatric Dental Residency program. He credits his parents for being a huge part of his support system.


Congratulations to all of our 2022 graduates! We're excited to see where your careers take you. And to future dental students, we can't wait to welcome you to the CU family. Learn about the dental medicine programs available here.


Topics: Students