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Looking back: Q&A with Dental Class of 2022

Published: July 15, 2022 by Alexandria Brown

DDS Class of 2022 graduates (clockwise from top left): Drs. Michael Akinyeye, Rebecca Trevino, Dane Risinger, Dooyeol Kim, Christopher Orosco, and Stacy Diep
DDS Class of 2022 graduates (clockwise from top left): Drs. Michael Akinyeye, Rebecca Trevino, Dane Risinger, Dooyeol Kim, Christopher Orosco, and Stacy Diep. Photos by Brian Schnupp.

In May, 108 dental students crossed the stage at Minute Maid Park to officially begin their careers as dentists. The PACE Center spoke with six new graduates about their journey to dentistry, their experience at UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry, and what they plan to do as they journey out into the profession.

Michael Akinyeye, DDS

What made you want to go into dentistry?

“I knew I wanted to do something in health care, I have family that works in health care, specifically as physicians. I shadowed my childhood dentist and saw the way that he interacted with patients, making it a family atmosphere and not a day-to-day job. He cared for people, took them out of pain, and made them smile wider. That is what I want to do in health care. I want to be able to work with my hands and be able to make a big change in people’s lives.”

What was your experience at the UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry?

“There have been ups and downs for sure. Being a person of color has made it difficult in that aspect and school is just stressful in general. Trying to get everything done before graduation. It is a photo finish and doesn’t leave a lot of room for error.”

How excited are you to graduate?

“I will be doing a one-year residency in upstate New York. I’m very excited. I’ve wanted to get out of Texas for a while. I’ve been here throughout college and dental school. I want to have a new environment and see what it is like being away from home.”

What are your thoughts on being a minority in dentistry?

“It’s been dope. I’ve been a mentor to a couple of lower-classmen and others who are trying to get into dental school. I by no means have amazing stats or anything like that. I give all my thanks to God for being in the position that I am in. We all work hard to get here and sometimes we fall short. I tell people that, even as a minority, this is something that is accessible and possible to do. It makes me that happy that I can up the percentage of black dentists in America.”

Rebecca Trevino, DDS

What was your experience at UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry?

“My experience here at the School of Dentistry has been a rewarding and fulfilling experience. I’ve grown so much in my time here. “

Why did you choose to go into dentistry?

“I know it sounds cliché, but I’ve always loved being around people, helping people, and making people feel better. I have always felt like whether it was in high school when I taught dance or worked at an elementary daycare, I’ve always liked interacting with people. I look forward to having a business and career where I could be close to people and help them at the same time.”

Why did you choose to attend UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry?

“When I came here after learning about the program, it seemed very inviting. While doing the interviews and the tours here as a predental student, I could tell that it was a good environment and the people here were very genuine. Seeing the faculty members of higher positions present in school activities, seeing the dean, Dr. John Valenza, interact with students, and seeing Dr. Robert Spears and Dr. Ralph Cooley interact with students was important. Of course, the facilities are nice. It is a beautiful building and a beautiful view. Overall, I could feel a sense of family.”

What are your plans after graduation?

“My plans are to work in private practice. I am originally from McAllen, Texas. It is a little bit more of an underserved community than the greater Houston area. I am going to go back and give back to the community that raised me and helped form me into the woman that I am today. That was always my ultimate goal.”

Dane Risinger, DDS

What was your experience at the School of Dentistry?

“It went by fast, it seems like I got here yesterday. I have really enjoyed my time here.”

Why did you choose to pursue dentistry?

“I’ve been pretty intense with my desire to practice dentistry since high school. Since then, I have wanted to be an orthodontist and have never wavered from that. Getting into dental school was the initial goal. Once I got here, I knew I would have to work really hard to get into a residency. The School of Dentistry has prepared me really well. I’ve been able to make it through, make great friends, and great connections. I’m about to start an orthodontics residency here. I can’t get enough of this place!

Are you excited to stay at the School of Dentistry?

“It is a huge blessing to stay here. My fiancé is actually a resident here, too. I’ve made so many connections here, so obviously they were happy to have me stay a bit longer.”

How has your family influenced your path into dentistry?

“My dad is an orthodontist practicing in Beaumont, Texas. After I graduate, I will go work with him. That has been my dream. It will be fun to have that mentorship and at the same time, it will be nice to do what I’ve been trying to do all this time.”

Why did you choose to attend UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry?

“It was a combination of location, academics, and the people. When I was interviewing, I had friends that I respect a lot who chose Houston. You can get a great education at most dental schools, but it was the people that sold it for me. You see the people that represent the School of Dentistry, such as Dr. Robert Spears and Dr. Ralph Cooley. They are such nice and genuine humans. It is amazing. They get to know us so well and they really care; that is the standard. All of the faculty have been genuine and helpful. It is not what dental school used to be, scary and cutthroat. It is really a family atmosphere.”

Stacy Diep, DDS

Why did you choose to pursue dentistry?

“Growing up, I’ve always wanted to be in the medical field. Starting in college, I took more of an interest in dentistry. My youngest sister has special needs and asked that I come with her to her dental appointment. At that time, I was able to sit in and I saw that this was something that I could be interested in. I shadowed a dentist in Austin and learned about how I could help the Asian-American community learn about oral health. My grandfather immigrated from Vietnam in order for his children to achieve their dreams. My grandfather’s dream was to have someone in the family become a doctor. He never forced that on anyone, but being able to live that dream by doing something that I love is really important.”

What are your plans after graduation?

“Knowing that I have a different perspective due to having a sister with special needs and helping out with her, as well as being the oldest of 21 cousins, I’ve been exposed to a lot of children. Being in dental school, we’ve been exposed to pediatrics and behavior management. I’ve taken an elective at the transitional clinic at the Baylor College of Medicine working with David Fray, DDS, and Ben F. Warner, DDS, MD, MS, working with patients who are transitioning from pediatric care to adult care that have special needs. That has sparked my interest to pursue a pediatric dentistry residency. Next year, I will be staying in Houston at the School of Dentistry to start my residency.”

Why did you choose to attend UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry?

“I knew from my interview that it felt like family. One of the big things about the School of Dentistry is being a family. This is the farthest I’ve been from home. Starting from not knowing anyone in Houston and attending the welcome weekend, I could just feel the family atmosphere. Throughout these four years, I could not have survived dental school during the COVID-19 pandemic without all of my classmates, the faculty, and the staff. You know that everyone here supports you.”

What was your experience at the School of Dentistry?

“My experience at the School of Dentistry has been a lot of hard work, learning how to be flexible, building strong relationships, learning to make the best out of everything, and ultimately knowing that the decision I made four years ago is the best decision I made.”

Christopher Orosco, DDS

Why did you choose to attend dental school?

“My dad is a physician, and I’ve always liked the medical field. When I was researching different careers, my hometown dentist had hired a new dentist, and he was younger and could relate to me. I shadowed him, he brought me in and showed me the ropes. That is why I originally got into dentistry. In college, I got a job as a dental assistant and that is when I really knew that I wanted to become a dentist.”

What are your plans after graduation?

“After graduation, I will be in The Woodlands working with Royce Strickland, DDS, who is part-time faculty at the School of Dentistry. He works in the Yellow Practice often and that is how I got to know him. I will be working with him in private practice.”

 How did you come to that decision to go directly into practice?

“He’s helped me with a lot of patients. Seeing him work with patients is something that I admired and respected about him. When I went to visit his practice, it was a fun atmosphere and it is what I envisioned growing up—always putting the patients first. Hopefully, I can continue along his path. He is going to be a great mentor for me, and I am excited.”

What was your experience at UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry?

I’ve enjoyed it. Lots of ups and downs, but I feel like it has made me a better person. It’s tough, but after coming out on the other side you realize everything was for a reason.”

What does it mean to graduate from dental school?

“It is rewarding. I don’t think it will hit me until later. It is surreal. All these years that we’ve put in and it is finally come to fruition.”

Dooyeol Kim, DDS

Why did you choose to pursue a career in dentistry?

“I initially had the thought in my head since my dad went to dental school when he was 38. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years after he graduated. When I was in college, he wasn’t around and I was trying to figure out what to do.I explored everything under the sun. I kept dentistry on the list. My experience shadowing a dentist was more positive than my experience shadowing other doctors. I think that had a big impact. I saw that dentists had more of a relationship with their patients than physicians. A lot of the physicians only saw patients when they were in pain. I felt like dentists had a more long-lasting relationship.”

What was your experience at the UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry?

“My experience really splits into the first two years and then the second two years, two separate worlds. I think a lot of people would agree that the first two years were a bit more comfortable. The first two years were easier for me, because it was what I was used to my entire life as a student. It was easy for me to transition into becoming a dental student, because I was used to sitting in a classroom and taking exams. Going into clinic was a whole new beast. That was stressful for me. It was difficult to change how I function; the mindset is different. We are no longer studying to take an exam, we are studying to pick up bits of information to be able to better treat a patient. That was a unique experience for me.”

Why did you choose to attend School of Dentistry?

“When I interviewed at Houston, I felt a strong sense of community that I didn’t feel at other schools. The environment felt more laid-back, and the people were friendly. That was what I was looking for and it was a no-brainer. Once I finished my interview, I knew that if they accepted me I would be going here.”


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