Kathryn “Katie” Thomas has known her profession and her alma mater since fifth grade.
“It seems like I’ve always wanted to be a dentist,” says Katie, who as a child would hold a mirror near her mouth to watch her dentist work his wizardry. “My experiences have been good, and I’ve always been fascinated by dentistry!”
“And I’ve always wanted to learn to be a dentist at Michigan,” Katie says, as she races toward commencement 2016…and works on her application to the U-M School of Dentistry. “I didn’t realize until my freshman year it would take eight years and two degrees, but that’s what I’m prepared to do.”
Now almost at the midway mark to her DDS, with her BS in Movement Science coming in April, Katie remembers clearly her first semester at Michigan when she arrived on campus, alone. No one else from her graduating class was at Michigan, and no one from her family. Actually, Katie was the first in her family to take this step into higher education.
Katie, her older sister and younger brother—now a U–M sophomore majoring in sociology—“grew up in inner-city Detroit and went to Detroit Public Schools. Our parents were always putting education into our heads,” she recalls.
She transferred in sixth grade to a charter school in Dearborn “that was filled with a bunch of city kids whose parents were looking for a better education for their kids.” In ninth grade, Katie’s family moved to Pontiac, but she decided to stay at her charter school, graduated salutatorian.
“Then, I got here and I wanted to go home.”
Always a strong student, Katie’s first semester, “blew my self-esteem like never before,” she recalls, especially intro to chemistry. She made it through with faith, friendship, and focus, completing her first-year classes in good shape.
Katie’s parents, a food-service director and retired machinist, resisted the temptation to tell her to come home and instead buoyed her up with a little good advice. “My father reminded me, ‘God wouldn’t give you more than you can handle.’”
She joined the Pre-Dental Club, and then the Undergraduate Student National Dental Association, which she served on its eboard and where she learned more about and confirmed her interest in dentistry.
As a six-year veteran of hip-hop, Katie found friends and a whole lot of fun in U-M’s all-woman hip-hop group, the Dalliance Dance Crew.
Katie also found the First-Generation College Students @ Michigan club, where she serves as 2015 – 2016 president. “I found camaraderie and help to make it better for myself and for others coming after me.” Until then, she recalls, “I had thought my issues were unique to me, that I was alone. But then I discovered my issues were the same as theirs.”
“I appreciate that First-Generation College Students @ Michigan is that resource people can go to if they’re feeling deflated or if they’re looking for someone to talk to. First-gen students may not ask for help they need. But there are resources at Michigan, and I want to be sure we make those resources known to First-Gens and make First-Gens feel welcome. If not, the Michigan experience can be overwhelming.”
How does it feel to be approaching alumna status? “My parents are really proud. During the year-end break, they were talking about how fast college has gone. ‘It will just keep getting better from here,’ they tell me. I think they’re right!”
First-gen students may not ask for help they need. But there are resources at Michigan, and I want to be sure we make those resources known to First-Gens and make First-Gens feel welcome. If not, the Michigan experience can be overwhelming.