Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation today announced the first recipients of the new Delta Dental of Illinois Diversity Admissions Scholarship at Midwestern University in Downers Grove.
Two first-generation college students — Orquidea Rafuls of Miami, Florida and Kayla Reyes of Chester County, Pennsylvania — are the first to earn $50,000 scholarships each that will be awarded annually to eligible students at Midwestern University’s College of Dental Medicine-Illinois (CDMI). The scholarships are intended to foster diversity and extend opportunities for students from underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups.
“We developed this scholarship as part of our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and to ensure that all students who share our mission to improve health in the community are able to achieve their educational goals,” said Lora Vitek, executive director of Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation. “Through these scholarships, we also hope to improve access to dental care in areas of the state that need it most by supporting young dental professionals while they are still in school.”
The Delta Dental of Illinois Diversity Admissions Scholarship is available to incoming first-year students at CDMI who belong to racial and ethnic minority groups. These competitive scholarships are awarded based on the following criteria: past academic performance; commitment to diversity, leadership, and community service; and demonstrated financial need. Consideration is also given to applicants who are first-generation college students.
Rafuls is the first member of her family to pursue graduate education in the U.S. She received her undergraduate degree from Miami Dade College and was drawn to the field of dental medicine after visiting her aunt’s dental clinic in the Dominican Republic.
“At a young age, I would visit my aunt’s clinic and watch as she masterfully handled various dental health problems in the community,” she said. “The way she interacted with patients inspired me to pursue a career in dentistry so I could make an impact in the community, too.”
Rafuls worked for several years as a dental assistant and is looking forward to starting her professional dental medicine education with the help of the Delta Dental of Illinois Diversity Admissions Scholarship.
“Receiving this scholarship validates the sacrifices I made to get to this point,” Rafuls said. “For many years, I had to slowly pursue my education so I could work, financially support my mother, and help raise my three younger sisters. These hardships tested and strengthened me, but when I finally was able to receive my college diploma, I knew that it was all worth it. I can never express how grateful I am for this opportunity.”
Reyes is also a first-generation college student. She recently worked as a dental assistant at a practice dedicated to treating patients with special needs and has pursued additional training to support individuals with disabilities. After completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Reyes became active in Community Volunteers in Medicine (CVIM), which serves many immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries.
“Witnessing their pain-free smiles after treatment assures me that every contribution makes a difference,” Reyes said. “Being able to serve as a source of knowledge at the clinic by training my peers in dental procedural techniques, the intricacies of patient care within a community health center, and Spanish dental terminology has also been motivating for me. We all share the desire to reduce health care disparities in underserved communities.”
As Reyes begins her dental studies, she is looking forward to being part of an educational community that values service to others and provides care to a wide range of patients through the Midwestern University’s Dental Institute.
“It is an absolute honor to be awarded this scholarship that supports students like myself from different backgrounds,” Reyes said. The opportunity to pursue my ultimate goal of one day practicing in an underserved community as a culturally competent and compassionate dental professional is incredible.”
About Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation
The Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation was formed in March 2008 by Delta Dental of Illinois, a not-for-profit dental service corporation with a mission to improve overall health and well-being. Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation is the 501(c)(3) charitable arm of Delta Dental of Illinois. In the past decade, combined efforts of Delta Dental of Illinois and Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation have provided more than $15 million to programs and organizations in Illinois that improve the oral health of the state’s residents. For additional information about Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation, visit deltadentalil.com/ddilfoundation.
About Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine-Illinois
The College of Dental Medicine-Illinois prepares students for successful careers in a variety of dental medicine fields with a focus on the delivery of optimal oral health as a component of overall general health. The four-year graduate program is based on the Downers Grove Campus of Midwestern University.