MERCED — UC Merced student and aspiring dentist Julianne Soria, 21, isn't waiting for dental school to jump-start her career.
For the past four years, Soria has participated in Project Smile, a UC Merced campus club dedicated to teaching children the importance of dental health. She is currently the club's president.
"I enjoy helping people achieve better smiles," Soria said.
The club, which Soria says numbers about 20 students, visits local elementary schools. Soria and others in the club speak to young children, often using a dragon puppet to illustrate proper brushing technique and talk about which foods to stay away from.
During her sophomore year in college, Soria took her concerns for young people and their dental health to another country. She spent a week in a small village near Guatemala City, where she assisted dental hygienists in providing serv- ices to underprivileged children.
Soria said she and the other volunteers helped more than 700 kids, most of whom were 3 to 10 years old. Soria said the community where she worked didn't have a dental office, so she and other volunteers were given two empty classrooms to use as makeshift dental offices.
Soria assisted dental hygienists with procedures such as tooth extractions, cleanings and fillings. Many children had serious problems, including rotten or broken teeth, and abscesses in their gums.
"The kids are were really good," she said. "They would actually not cry as much as the kids here, because they're actually happy that you're looking at their teeth."
In terms of career role models to emulate, Soria doesn't have to look far. Her parents, Julio and Antonietta Soria, are dentists in Monterey County. Soria said she has helped out in her parents' office since she was young, which was good preparation for her future career.
"I've been exposed since as long I can remember," Soria said. "It's a skill that I acquired, and I wanted to get better at it."
More students in the Project Smile club are scheduled to visit Guatemala in May, Soria said.
Erica Robbins, a health professions adviser at UC Merced who also acts as an adviser to Project Smile, said that Soria has been a leader for the club and an advocate for dental health awareness.
"She has done a great job as president of Project Smile, and their outreach and philanthropy to the community is outstanding," Robbins said. "Through their efforts in the community, they have been able to share the importance of good dental health and care with children who may not have access to routine dental care."
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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