What Can I Give? 

Alejandra De La Cruz portrait in grad cap and gown



06 May 24

Ostrow graduate Alejandra De La Cruz aims to use her new dental degree to give back to those in her underserved community. 

THE ROAD TO DENTISTRY was not without its detours for Ostrow graduate Alejandra De La Cruz DDS ’24,

As a high school student with college dreams, the bookish De La Cruz took AP courses but not in science, only the English ones. In fact, it wasn’t until De La Cruz began taking courses — with a renewed interest in a STEM education — at college that she had her first brush with dentistry.

“My first introduction to dentistry and the idea of it as a career took place two minutes from my house at the local federally qualified healthcare center,” says De La Cruz, who shadowed dentists at the low-cost clinic for the underserved during her freshman year of undergraduate studies. “It was just all observation. You just take it in, and I thought, ‘if you can stand there for hours at a time on your feet and just watch, then you probably know that you’re OK with doing this professionally.’”


The Way Out


De La Cruz grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., where her parents — a mother, who worked at a local community college, and a father, who worked at the Parks and Recreation Department — impressed upon her and her older brother the value of higher education.

“My mother was always a big advocate for higher education,” De La Cruz says. “She grew up in a really rural town in New Mexico, and her parents always knew the way out was higher education.”

Her first-generation college graduate parents chose to give back to their communities out of a sense of appreciation and love, serving as an example for others. 

“It was a really conscious choice for them to remain there,” De La Cruz says, “to serve the community and to figure out how they could help move it forward.”

After completing her general education coursework, De La Cruz transferred to the University of New Mexico, where she would eventually earn a degree in biology. 

It was as an undergraduate that De La Cruz encountered her next detour, albeit only a slight one. 

“I actually thought I was going to do research the rest of my life,” says De La Cruz, who entered the research world through a government program meant to expose traditionally underrepresented populations to careers in scientific investigation. “Everybody really wanted to be a part of it,” she says. “It was such an immense opportunity, and I was very very, lucky to be part of it.”

With the ultimate realization that a career in research wasn’t suited to her, De La Cruz decided to return to basics. 


Being the Example


“I grew up in a household of ‘What can I give?’,” says De La Cruz, who sought a career where her contributions to society would be more immediate and tangible. 

With a renewed interest in the dental profession, De La Cruz entered dental school in 2020, immersing herself in all that Ostrow has to offer.

“I knew my time here is limited,” she explains. “It was such an opportunity to be at USC that I was going to try to learn and see whatever I could.” 

While at Ostrow, De La Cruz joined the Union Rescue Mission Clinic Selective, Dr. Stat and the dental fraternity Delta Sigma Delta while holding student leadership positions in the American Dental Education Association (class representative and national advocacy liaison) and the American Association of Public Health Dentistry (treasurer and internal affairs board member).

Next up for the dental school graduate is a general practice residency in New Mexico before she hopes to return one final time to the federally qualified healthcare center, which is De La Cruz’s dream job.

“I recognize there’s a need, and it has always been my intention to go back and serve my community,” she says. 

Perhaps the most profound way of giving back to her community, though, might be her mere presence as a woman of Hispanic and Indigenous backgrounds. 

“I’m not here because I saw someone who looked like me; I’m here despite it,” she says. “You just hope that being there and being caring and even a little relatable will make somebody in the future think that this is a space for them too.” 

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