Jake Kalkstein came to UMW looking for change. This May, he’ll leave with a purpose.
Feeling lost after his first year of college, the soon-to-be-graduate transferred to UMW, enamored by its small class sizes, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, and potential for building relationships with professors.
Just three years later, Kalkstein’s colorful story spans three countries and culminates with an acceptance letter and academic scholarship to dental school at Howard University. Sharing a vibrant narrative of eye-opening mission trips, engaging faculty mentors and hands-on dental experience, Kalkstein paints a picture that places Mary Washington as the canvas for his future.
Diving into a biology major his first year on campus, Kalkstein admits he was taken aback by the rigor of his courses and struggled with the academic transition. Then he found the spark that pushed him to excel at school.
“I could see myself being a dentist,” said Kalkstein, reflecting on his time shadowing his family dentist in Arlington, Virginia. “I would observe, help sterilize equipment and work directly with patients. I loved how hands-on it was.”
The one-and-a-half-month immersion was the taste Kalkstein needed to make academics his priority and seek out other experiences in dentistry. Over the next two years, he joined mission trips to Haiti and Panama as part of International Medical Relief’s dental team, helping dentists who performed extractions and fluoride treatments.
“I gained a ton of perspective,” said Kalkstein, who shared stories about patients with rotting teeth, decay and intense pain. “Oral health isn’t a priority in places like Haiti and Panama, which causes so much suffering.”
Besides assisting with dental procedures, Kalkstein handed out toothpaste and toothbrushes, and worked with translators to deliver pre- and post-operation reports.
“I realized how valuable and fulfilling it is to give back,” said Kalkstein. “The trips only motivated me further to become a dentist and possibly one day start my own nonprofit that hosts mission trips.”
Back in Fredericksburg, Kalkstein had the ideal network and pre-dental program within the biology department to support his vision and launch his dental career.
“It’s not uncommon for Jake to drop by my office,” said Abbie Tomba, associate professor of biology. “We would discuss classwork or current topics in science. His curiosity about a wide range of topics led to some great conversations.”
Between faculty mentors and the department’s pre-medical/pre-dental club, Kalkstein had the tools he would need to land a spot in Howard University’s dental program. The club became a crucial key to Kalkstein’s success, providing career advice, entrance exam tips and speakers from representative programs.
“Joe Ferguson, a former professor at UMW, is now a family friend,” said Kalkstein, who often spent time talking with faculty during office hours. “My professors wrote letters of recommendation, mentored me and helped me with my résumé.”
Proudly wearing his new Howard University sweatshirt, he is proof that everyone’s efforts – especially his own – seem to have paid off.
“I’ve come a long way,” Kalkstein said. “Relentless hard work in a tough science curriculum has gotten me to where I am today. I worked hard and reached my goal.”