“Since May, my mom wasn’t there [working in the food truck] because she had a right knee replacement surgery because she had arthritis from having to stand 12 hours a day. It was painful for the past two years, but my dad can’t run [the food truck] alone and there’s no one else to do it.” She’s hoping to support her parents when she is done with school. “Because I most likely will have a comfortable lifestyle and income.”
When shadowing in Dr. Petchalonis’ dental office in Rittenhouse Square this summer, Cindy has realized how much dentistry fits her personality. “I have always been a perfectionist. I always use a paper cutter when doing a project; I never use scissors..” (Megan chimes in with, “Party of two!”… she’s a perfectionist too). “So whenever Dr. Petchalonis puts in a crown, he asks his patients how it feels in their mouths and he will craft and sculpt it like 5 times. He puts in so much care to the procedure and I admire him for that. He says a lot of people don’t know what makes a good dentist or a bad dentist, but he tells me, ‘you have to do the right thing.’ So he takes a lot of care in his work. He asks, ‘Is that all right?’ and his patient says, ‘80% of the way there’. How leveled the crown is with the rest of the teeth is very important. You have to make sure it’s perfectly aligned when you bite down.”
She tells one of her favorite things that Dr. Petchalonis told her about his profession: “Being a dentist is like owning a lunch cart”. Megan and I laugh at the image, but she goes on to explain how in both professions you develop long-term relationships with your customers (or patients). Her parents know when a regular customer is scheduled to finish their PhD and what kinds of jobs they’re applying to next. Dr. Petchalonis is the same way – he asks his patients about how their vacation to Italy was last November and how their summer is going. She says she’s looking forward to forming those long-term relationships as a dentist, similar to the relationships she sees her parents forming with their lunch cart customers. They’ve gotten to know professors, doctors, and graduate students from the Penn community by serving them spaghetti and meatballs or egg salad sandwiches for lunch.
Being a dentist is like owning a lunch cart."
One of the goals of the program is to prepare urban kids for placement into top college prep schools. The program has worked for Cindy – she attends Masterman, the highest ranked school in the School District of Philadelphia. A very diverse student body is admitted based on merit from all over the city. Cindy takes great pride in her school and thinks it's awesome that a public school is preparing its students so well. She says: “You have kids from really diverse backgrounds and economic situations. There are some parents who are in the Penn community or who are doctors at Temple. When we go to track meets, if you look at our team, there’s Asians, Caucasians, African Americans, Hispanics. It’s such a blend. And then you look at the other team, and it’s just one race. But we take kids from all different neighborhoods.”
Cindy has worked hard for her success so far (during down time in the lab, she’s writing study guides for her AP Biology class she’ll be taking this fall), but she’s already working to pay it forward. During long runs with her cross-country team down Kelly Drive, she gives underclassmen advice about how to prepare for the ACT and how to be successful in high school. She’s working on starting an ACT test prep class at her school to share the awesomeness of the ACT over the SAT – “My score went up like 100 points [as compared to my SAT score] just by taking the ACT”.
For a girl who’s so future-oriented, I’m curious about what makes her most nervous and excited about the future.
Most nervous? “I’m nervous about the competitiveness of the science courses in college. I spend a lot of time thinking about this. If I could get into a school like Penn or Yale, definitely the core science courses, like chemistry, physics, biology, and organic chemistry, are going to be very hard and competitive, because a lot of people taking these classes also want to pursue careers of medical school or dental school. [I’m afraid of] struggling a lot with the science courses and dropping out of them and picking another major. That wouldn’t bring me to my end goal, being a dentist.”
Most excited? “I’m really just excited about making something of myself. You plan this all out and just want to achieve everything that you imagined. I’m one of those people who is picking out the exact college I want to go to. I’m like, ‘The first week of freshman year of college I have to find a lab to join.’ If I go to Penn, I know what clubs I want to join. I’d do the one where you tutor kids in West Philly, and maybe write for the Daily Pennsylvanian [Penn newspaper]. I’m also excited to relieve that stress from my parents so they can finally retire and also be a role model to my younger cousins.” She tells me a bit more about her cousins: she’s the oldest female cousin and she’s hoping to inspire some of her female relatives to pursue careers in science.
I'm just really excited about making something of myself."
As our lunchtime interview is winding down, Megan asks Cindy if she would be open to a career other than dentistry. She tells us that she considers herself very stubborn. “If I say I’m going to do that thing, I’m probably going to do that thing and it’s going take a lot of convincing to get me off that track.”
From what I know about Cindy, I’d say that stubbornness, mixed in with a whole lot of determination, is definitely going to get her to where she wants to go – into a white coat and behind a dentist’s chair. But for now, Cindy and I have to get back into lab to run a protein gel!