Meet the Scholars: Kenneth Smith
The fourth-year DDS student joins nearly 70 scholarship awardees for the 2015 Friends of Dentistry Scholarship Recognition Dinner, a unique event bringing Ostrow students face to face with their generous benefactors.
BY JOHN HOBBS MA ’14
Kenneth Smith DDS ’15 has accomplished a great deal in his burgeoning dental career.
He’s held leadership roles in dental organizations such as AYUDA, the G.V. Black Society and the Psi Omega Dental Fraternity of USC.
He founded a USC chapter of a national organization that builds dental clinics in underserved areas across the world.
And his research poster took first place in the “dental student basic science research category” at Ostrow’s Research Day in 2013.
This spring, the 28-year-old Central California native expects to finish his doctor of dental surgery degree before embarking on an advanced degree in orthodontics.
None of this would have been possible, he says, without the help of a few generous strangers—the donors who have helped create scholarships for students struggling to pay for their education.
On Feb. 20, Smith will join nearly 70 students, all of whom have been gifted with scholarships in the past year, for the 2015 Friends of Dentistry Scholarship Recognition Dinner at the W Hotel in Hollywood, Calif.
During the event, students and their benefactors get a unique opportunity to meet each other and celebrate the more than $1 million awarded in scholarships this year alone.
It’s not the first scholarship dinner for Smith, who has earned four scholarships since coming to the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry. His awards include the Carl E. Rieder/Newport Harbor Academy of Dentistry Endowed Scholarship, the Charles O’Grady Memorial Scholarship from Omicron Kapp Upsilon, the Pierre Fauchard Academy and, most recently, a Friends of Dentistry Endowed Scholarship.
“The scholarships have been great. I know the school does a really good job with that, Smith says. “I only wish they had more.”
Increasing the amount of scholarship opportunities for students like Smith is, in fact, one of Ostrow’s goals as it sets out to raise another $7 million for its scholarship endowment during its $115-million fundraising initiative as part of the Campaign for the University of Southern California.
Paying for undergraduate studies
Smith’s first experience with scholarships came years before, though, during his undergraduate years.
Smith’s father, a sheet metal worker, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma during Smith’s sophomore year at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Though he’s now healthy and in remission, the elder Smith’s cancer diagnosis—and subsequent medical care—forced him into early retirement. This left the family—Smith has three siblings—with just one income, that of Smith’s mother, an accountant and graduate from the USC Marshall School of Business.
“That kind of left me to fend for myself,” Smith says. Because of his high grades and active involvement, California Lutheran University helped pair him with a scholarship to finance the majority of his undergraduate degree.
He graduated in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and set his heart on a career in the medical field.
“I always liked the challenge and responsibility of taking care of someone,” he says. “That always made me feel confident in myself, knowing that others were depending on me.”
For two years, Smith worked as an emergency room scribe, transcribing medical notes and capturing patient-doctor dialogue during examinations.
He realized, though, the patch-’em-up bedside manner at an emergency room wasn’t for him. He preferred cultivating longer-lasting relationships with his patients, which led to dentistry.
“In dentistry, a patient can come in and not even have any ailments or symptoms,” he says. “You just get to enjoy interacting with them and providing preventive care.”
The lure of the Trojan legacy
Smith applied to USC, hoping to follow in the Trojan footsteps of his accountant mother and his grandmother, who also earned a master’s degree and doctorate from USC in psychology.
“I knew I’d be accruing quite a bit of debt, but I chose USC because I have a lot of respect for the university,” Smith says. “I think it’s very prestigious.”
The scholarships he’s received have afforded him the luxury to focus more on school work than the debt that comes with pursuing dentistry, he says.
“I feel really fortunate because I’ve been blessed with receiving these scholarships,” he says. “And I think these awards impact people more than even maybe the donors realize.”
As in years past, Smith looked forward to sitting down with his scholarship donors to thank them for making life a little easier as he sets out to open his own practice in Central California after he earns his specialty certificate.
He hopes one day to be able to give back to someone wit the same generosity that’s been afforded me.
“The Scholarship Dinner really encourages me to want to do the same in the future. I’d like to be able to help someone in a similar situation, to say ‘I was in your shoes, and it gets better.’”
The Friends of Dentistry Scholarship Recognition Dinner takes place Feb. 20 at the W Hotel in Hollywood, Calif.