For most children, a trip to the dentist is not something that they look forward to with a sense of excitement. But, for Chessa Calabrese, D.M.D., it was one of the highlights of her week. "I loved going to the dentist, which I know is unusual for most kids. I just thought it was fun. When my dad had dental appointments, I would go with him and ask to hold the salvia ejector. I never had painful experiences and I thought it was very interesting."
It's not surprising that with this early interest in dentistry, Chessa is among the 131 students who make up the inaugural class of the College of Dental Medicine-Illinois. "Not many aspiring dentists have the opportunity to help lead an entire dental program and I jumped at the chance to be a part of it. It's an honor to pave the way and set the bar for future CDMI classes," she said.
Prior to enrolling at Midwestern, Chessa earned a degree in community health from the University of Illinois. As part of her degree program, she completed an internship at a dental clinic in Champaign/Urbana that helped solidify her interest in dentistry. "We saw everything from kids who were explaining to their parents about dental health to kids who were really frightened."
Chessa also worked in a dentist office throughout high school and for a year after earning her undergraduate degree. Now at Midwestern, she feels that being a part of the first class of dental students is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. "I feel a great sense of responsibility to the University, the CDMI faculty, and future CDMI classes to exceed all expectations for the program. What we accomplish in our four years will really set a new standard for dental education. I cannot express enough how enthusiastic I am about helping to lead this journey," she said.
In addition to the excitement of being part of the inaugural class, Chessa cites the integrated curriculum as another unique aspect of the program that drew her to Midwestern. The idea of an integrated curriculum is to introduce students a variety of topics early in their studies and then return to those topics for more in-depth study throughout the course of their education. "It's never just one and done because we are going to be constantly learning which I think is great because when we get out into the real world, we're not just going to be working piecemeal with different parts of dentistry. It's going to have to be integrated," Chessa added.
"Not many aspiring dentists have the opportunity to help lead an entire dental program and I jumped at the chance to be a part of it. It's an honor to pave the way and set the bar for future CDMI classes."
— Chessa Calabrese, D.M.D., Class of 2015
While the coursework has been challenging, Chessa reports that the adjustment period has gone well. "I know it's cliché to say, but we are a big family - we all help each other and we want to make sure we all succeed as a class," she said. According to Chessa, the faculty members in the program also contribute to the overall atmosphere of cooperation. "The instructors here are really down to earth, they make you feel like you're their colleagues and they want to get your input on how things are going. I feel very comfortable working with them - it's been an amazing experience so far," she said.
The class is also busy setting up connections with national student dental organizations and exploring service opportunities. As a lifelong runner, Chessa was especially pleased that her schedule allowed her to complete the Chicago Marathon in October. "I'm really having fun, I'm learning a lot and I have to work hard, but I think we are all finding a good balance which is a nice thing about this program," she stated. Chessa also found time to participate with her classmates on an intramural soccer team as part of the University's student wellness program.
One highlight for the first-year dental students is the new Dental Simulation Lab which is part of the technology-rich Science Hall that opened in 2011. "The Dental Simulation Lab is amazing, it's seriously beautiful," she confides. "We are using the newest and best technology which is important because in dentistry the technology is changing so fast."
The young girl who loved going to the dentist will soon have the opportunity to help other people look forward to their time in a dental chair. Chessa and her classmates will begin seeing patients under the supervision of faculty mentors at the Dental Clinic set to open in 2013. "Dentistry is an extremely unique branch of healthcare: intertwining education, prevention, treatment, and artistry," she said. "I am really looking forward to the clinical portion of our education when we get to provide the community with dental care."
Chessa Calabrese is a graduate of the College of Dental Medicine-Illinois.