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Somkene Okwuego BS ’21 MASM ’22 has no plans to stray far from campus.

After earning a bachelor’s in human development and aging and a master’s in aging services management at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, Okwuego is now pursuing a dentistry degree at the USC Ostrow School and looks forward to combining her gerontology and dentistry expertise to meet the needs of older adults.

As an undergraduate, she helped transport older patients to doctor appointments. Many of them had lost teeth and had poor diets as a result. Some were able to buy dentures, but complained about them, she recalled.

“A lot of people didn’t want to smile, because they’re embarrassed of how their teeth look,” Okwuego said. “When I told them I was going to dentistry school, they’d say, ‘please go, so you can come and help me.’ Social factors are affected, and so are health factors.”

A recipient of a prestigious National Health Service Corps scholarship, which covers the entire cost of her dental school education in exchange for  four years serving residents in underserved areas, Okwuego says she wants to exclusively work with marginalized populations, noting that many low-income residents view dental care as a luxury.

And when she establishes her own practice, the South Los Angeles native plans to stay and serve in the area where she grew up and where her family still lives.

“I’ve always wanted to be an advocate for my community,” she said.

This article is adapted from a recent story from the USC Herman Ostrow School by author Andrew Faught.

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