Peace of Mind

Four Ostrow faculty award recipients with Dean Avishai Sadan and Roseann Mulligan

Michelle McCarthy


01 Mar 24

Four Ostrow faculty members have been awarded loan repayment grants so they can continue giving back.

“BEST EMAIL EVER.” That’s how Elizabeth Brummel, assistant professor of clinical dentistry, describes digital notification that she would be receiving a grant to cover her $60,000 student loan. “It really is life changing, because my husband and I went back to school around three or four years ago. Taking on that kind of debt later in life is always a challenge. Getting mine relieved is going to be extremely helpful as far as our personal finances.”

Brummel is one of four Ostrow faculty members who was recently awarded a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant to pay off her educational loans over five years. The HRSA grants are given as part of an effort to attract and retain the best faculty and award those who work with underserved communities.

Assistant Professor of Clinical Dentistry Catherine Pham says the HRSA grant couldn’t have come at a better time — her daughter will be starting preschool this year. “It will pay off the remainder of my loan. Childcare is not cheap, so it’s nice to be able to use those funds somewhere else.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Kristine Parungao ’13, MS ’21, associate professor of clinical dentistry — who also received the entirety of her student loan. “We have a 1-year-old child, so this award definitely helps a lot, as I’ll continue to get additional training as needed.”




HRSA grant recipient Amirali Mirenayat DDS ’12, associate professor of clinical dentistry, says his time at USC sparked the idea of working with the community full-time. “As a student, I was exposed to working with the underserved and those most in need of dental care. Despite all the dental offices you see on every corner, there are people who aren’t able to get care. USC definitely opened my eyes to that.”

Parungao says the community programs she took part in provided an alternative career path to private practice. “There are a lot of different programs that USC exposed me to — one of them being the Union Rescue Mission. The health fairs I participated in as a student also introduced me to working in communities such as Inglewood and South Central.

“There’s so much need, especially in the communities we service,” she continues. “We’re trying to help out the community, whether it’s educating them about their health, providing preventive services or linking them to resources they can access. It’s heartwarming to work with them and provide these types of services.”




When Pham decided on a career in dentistry, financial gain wasn’t the motivating factor. “I enjoy dentistry because you get to see patients more often than you would as a medical professional,” she explains. “You build relationships. And, with pediatric dentistry, you get to see the children grow up over time. It’s so much more rewarding when I’m doing something I really love rather than just trying to do something for the money.

“Ninety-eight percent of the patients we see are on Medi-Cal,” she continues. “They’re sent to us because other providers in the community just don’t have the resources to take care of them. We have patients who come from very far away to see us. Our farthest patient right now lives on Catalina Island.”

Brummel worked in private practice for 10 years and says she didn’t experience the type of fulfillment she currently feels until she volunteered for various organizations that offered free dentistry in places such as Kingston, Jamaica.

“That’s how I knew this is where my passion is,” she says. “I still get that fulfillment every time I work within the community.” 




Mirenayat spent the last decade working in federally qualified health centers. When the opportunity arose for him to teach in a similar setting, he jumped at it. He now trains the next generation of dental professionals at the dental clinic located at L.A.’s Union Rescue Mission. “I hope I can plant an idea in their brain, and maybe some of them will choose the same path for their future careers,” he shares.

It’s not only the next generation of dental professionals who benefit from these programs. Pham enjoys educating young clients and “showing them how important their teeth are — how they’re part of their well-being and overall health. It sets them up for a lifetime of success from a young age.”




For Pham, the HRSA grant means she will be able focus on the task at hand. “Receiving this loan gives me peace of mind to be able to continue to teach in my position without having to worry about all the financial barriers,” she says. “I get to continue to do what I love: taking care of patients.”

Parungao wants to thank everyone who put in the hard work to make her loan repayment a reality. “I’m happy to see that USC cares for its faculty,” she says. “Grant writing is a long, tedious process and requires a lot of effort — so thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Brummel agrees: “I know how busy everybody is, and they took the time to put in the paperwork and write the grant proposal to get the funds needed to cover my education,” she says. “It takes a community to make one another successful, and I can’t thank them enough. I would love to return the favor in any way that I can, and pay it forward.”

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