Jake Luong’s journey to dental school didn’t come easily, but he was determined to make it happen. Now, he is the first student to matriculate into the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) program at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine (CU SDM) through the Master of Science in Modern Human Anatomy (MHA) Pathway to Dentistry Program.
“Getting into dental school has been both challenging and rewarding,” Luong said. “It's a demanding path, but the opportunity to help people with their oral health makes it fulfilling.”
Jake Luong (DDS '27) receives his white coat, presented by Stephanie H. Kaufmann, DDS '97, CU Dental alumna and Deputy Regent from the International College of Dentists.
A tale of resiliency and not giving up on your dreams
Luong’s grandfather, a dedicated dentist, inspired him to pursue dentistry. “Witnessing how he gave back to our local community, providing dental care to those in need, left a lasting impression on me,” Luong said. “One cherished memory was when he skillfully and kindly extracted my baby tooth, instilling in me the desire to follow in his footsteps and make a positive impact on people's oral health and well-being.”
As a young father, however, Luong had to prioritize his family obligations over academic pursuits. His undergraduate career was not smooth, and his grades suffered, so he put his dreams on hold.
Jake Luong (center) proudly wears his new white coat alongside his brothers.
Years later, he moved to Colorado to be closer to his two younger brothers (who are both dentists) and re-start his dental journey. He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry from Metropolitan State University while working full time as a dental assistant so that he could finish his degree and support his family.
When he took the Dental Admissions Test (DAT) for the first time, Luong was unsuccessful in receiving a score that would make him a competitive dental school applicant. On the next attempt, he greatly improved his score from a 16 AA to a 21 AA (the national average is 18 AA). Thinking that would give him a better chance, he applied to a multitude of schools. He received interviews and some waitlisted positions but was not accepted.
“This was the lowest point of the journey for me,” Luong said. “I thought I had done everything right. I studied hard and improved my score. But I think overall it was my GPA early on in my academic career that made it hard for me to get in.”
After interviewing at CU SDM and not being accepted, Luong received a call from Assistant Professor and Director of Diversity Programming Amisha Singh, DDS ’15, who told him about the MHA Pathway to Dentistry Program.
“This program is built for passionate students like Jake who have faced a challenging path to dental medicine,” Singh said. “It would give him another chance to perform in a graduate environment with additional support and resources for professional and academic development.” It would also allow him to earn a new GPA and show an upward trend.
Luong took this advice, applied and received his acceptance in 2022. Remembering the moment, he said, “I couldn’t believe that my childhood dream was finally going to come true.”
A pathway for success
The MHA Pathway to Dentistry Program provides academic and clinical preparation, mentorship, and a pathway for success for traditionally underrepresented students in dental school through the MHA curriculum. Students admitted to the pathway program receive a reserved seat in the DDS program, pending successful completion of all requirements. After the one-year MHA program, students transition into the four-year DDS program while working on their capstone project. Upon graduation, they receive both DDS and MS degrees.
The first year of the MHA Pathway to Dentistry Program is spent entirely in the MHA curriculum. Luong said, “The master’s program was hard. It made me a better student.” Luong is passionate about innovation in patient care and wants to develop his MHA capstone project around the use of technology in dentistry.
Associate Director of Admission and Student Engagement Nicole Dole said the MHA pathway program was designed for students like Luong. “The academic rigor of the MHA curriculum has prepared him to excel in dental school, while simultaneously training him to be a class leader. Jake’s exceptional work ethic and resiliency will guide him well in the next chapter of his dental education.”
After persevering and pushing through all his setbacks, Luong began his dental school career in 2023. The transition was full of mixed emotions. He finally made it.
“My family has been an unwavering source of strength throughout this journey,” he said. “Their continuous encouragement during challenging moments and heartfelt celebrations of my achievements have fueled my determination.”
Luong and his classmates received their white coats during a momentous ceremony, signifying the transition from student to patient care provider. “It was an incredible feeling – a mix of pride and excitement,” Luong said. “Putting on that white coat felt like a tremendous achievement and a great responsibility all at once. It symbolized the true beginning of my career in dentistry.”