Ostrow Winner: National Dental Association President’s Scholarship Equity Statement Competion

Taylor Purks portrait

Taylor Purks DDS '22


13 Apr 21

Editor’s Note: The following is Ostrow’s winning essay for the National Dental Association President’s Scholarship Equity Statement Competition. The competition awards a $10,000 scholarship to one student — who must be a member of their school’s chapter of the Student National Dental Association — at each of California’s dental schools. 

BEING RAISED BY A HARD-WORKING SINGLE MOTHER in the South impacted my life tremendously. My mom has been my sole caregiver since my father died from leukemia in 1998 when I was an infant. Despite the fact that my mother was not a college graduate and did not have a strong income, she was determined to empower me to strive for excellence, despite our circumstances. While many difficult events following my father’s death have significantly impacted me personally, they have also strengthened my resolve to succeed and have forced me to remain laser focused on my personal goals and ambitions. Truly, from the time I was able to comprehend the significance of my father’s cancer, I knew my calling was to help others who are in pain or who have limited options. For sure, my life experiences have cemented my commitment to becoming a dentist and to providing quality dental care to disadvantaged communities.

Although our financial challenges may have caused instability and trauma, my mom and I have always struggled to make ends meet. Year after year, I wondered how I would be able to attend college or graduate school. My mom assured me that if I remained disciplined and dedicated to my studies, the sky would be the limit. Despite our dire financial circumstances, many study habits were instilled in me to ensure that I would not have to live in those conditions indefinitely. My mom is a very strong and independent woman and, as a direct result of her strict parenting style, I developed excellent study skills and time management habits. I also developed the fire in my belly as I refuse to be denied entry into college or graduate school! Many unconventional experiences have shaped my life journey, but my family has helped to prepare me for a career in dentistry.


"From the time I was able to comprehend the significance of my father’s cancer, I knew my calling was to help others who are in pain or who have limited options."
—Taylor Purks DDS '22


At a very young age, my mother taught me how to crochet. Ironically, crocheting became a hobby which helped to strengthen my manual dexterity. I originally began making Christmas scarves for family members but ended up crocheting stuffed animals, blankets, tank tops and more. Stitching complex patterns with an eye to creating a work of art has helped me to appreciate the amount of manual dexterity required in dentistry.

As a granddaughter to an amazing chef and successful businessman, my papa has always made the best sweet potato pies. Many Saturday afternoons were filled with baking sweet potato aromas and eating endless scoops of homemade vanilla ice cream. Baking with my grandfather was the most enjoyable part of my weekends with my grandparent. Our ritual consisted of boiling the sweet potatoes, mixing all the ingredients (which would soon be responsible for developing a high caries index) and waiting for the pies to cool down. Mixing ingredients resembles mixing alginate or cements. If the ratio is not precise or accurate, a sweet potato pie would not cook properly, just as a dental impression would never set properly. I will never forget the sweet aroma of the sizzling brown sugar mixing with the bronzing the sweet potatoes.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been passionate about helping others. In high school, I enjoyed studying math and science, and initially felt that I may want to become a doctor. During my high school graduation, I was recognized for my academic excellence, leadership and community service. I graduated with 12 AP courses, was the senior class president and senior body president and played lacrosse. But, I was most proud of being recognized as one of the students with the most community service hours. That was a badge of honor.

In addition to my academic success, I have demonstrated leadership and team-working skills through athletics. After playing lacrosse for only two seasons in a non-traditional community, I played on a Division I women’s lacrosse team in college. After my first collegiate season, I earned an athletic scholarship for the remaining three years in college. This experience allowed me to develop crucial skills including discipline, time management, prioritization, focus and dedication. More importantly, through lacrosse, I developed manual dexterity, which I discovered through my internships, is key to executing fine motor skills. While playing lacrosse, I also was on the Dean’s List and was a member of All Academic MEAC Commissioners Team.


"My greatest desires are to alleviate pain, develop and maintain long term patient relationships, utilize and demonstrate meticulous abilities and provide genuine care for others."
—Taylor Purks DDS '22


I worked for a dentist, and that was when I discovered my true passion. Dentistry is a unique practice. I admired the strong relationships that my dentist had with her patients and marveled at the strong foundation of trust. But my experience in working since graduation cemented my commitment to dentistry. I have worked with a cosmetic implant dentist since I graduated and I gained priceless hands-on experience. From taking panoramic X-rays, periapical X-rays, clinical cosmetic intramural photographs, impressions to pouring study models and assisting with implants, extractions, fillings and teeth whitenings, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute. While this experience was unique and invaluable, I now know that I want to practice dentistry in underserved or disadvantaged communities. My life experiences, my family support and my limited but meaningful work in dental offices have heightened my resolve.

I’ve had other key experiences that have shaped my passion for dentistry, including observing a live knee-replacement surgery, working with renowned lawyers and pursuing independent research through which I published my data. Through each and every experience, not only have I gained valuable knowledge and communication skills, but more importantly, I was able to discover my true passion. My greatest desires are to alleviate pain, develop and maintain long term patient relationships, utilize and demonstrate meticulous abilities, and provide genuine care for others. As there is an increasing demand for good dental care, then dentistry is, indeed, my vocation. I am hungry to pursue my dream of bringing first-rate dentistry to underserved communities.

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