Research Helps Boost Student-Athlete To Dentistry School

Subscribe to RSS Feed

Mitchell Sanders ’23 believes the research he did at Dominican University of California as a biology major was one of the deciding factors in him being accepted into the University of Washington School of Dentistry.

Mitchell is one of only eight students selected to enter UW’s Regional Initiatives in Dental Education (RIDE) program this summer. The undergraduate research he conducted alongside Dr. Vania Coelho at Dominican in the School of Health and Natural Sciences gave him an advantage over other dental school applicants.

“Our research on the effects of scuba diving and community engagement on the health of coral reefs has helped me understand when to be a leader and when to be a follower,” says Mitchell, who was an independent research assistant for Dr. Coelho in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. 

“Applied to dentistry, this means I can delegate work to assistants while also following the instructions of other dentists. Schools like to see research because it shows collaboration skills, as well as being able to do my own work.”

Mitchell collaborated with Dr. Coelho on research pertaining to coral reefs becoming increasingly endangered due to local and global anthropogenic stresses. The threats are numerous and are affecting these ecosystems on a large scale. The end result was they learned that there is an enormous potential to increase the role this industry plays in helping with environmental education, conservation and restoration of coral reef ecosystems, and that more engagement both from divers, scientists, non-profit organizations and local and federal agencies is needed. The project includes four other research students, but Mitchell volunteered to further develop the research to the point of writing a manuscript for potential peer-review publication. He has been working with Dr. Coelho for about a year on the project, after his three research methodology classes with her ended.

 “This shows how challenging it is to fine tune and polish a scientific paper to a level that can be submitted for a journal in this field,” Dr. Coelho says.

“All the skills he has learned in the process, including how to access the most accurate and up-to-date scientific information, the level of critical thinking, attention to detail, rigor in collecting and interpreting data, and ability to synthesize information in a meaningful manner, that was required from him in his research project are a set of skills that will benefit him throughout his professional life and I am certain did not go unnoticed by the interview committees he met with when applying to grad school. This is a most uncommon level of training for undergraduate applicants and clearly helps provide a competitive edge over other candidates.”

Hence Mitchell in July will return to his home state and begin classes at UW, the only school of dentistry in the state of Washington. The school emphasizes research in anxiety, orofacial pain, tissue repair and regeneration, immune response to bacteria, and practice-based research. He will enjoy the ride in the RIDE program.

“It specifically focuses on underserved rural communities which is what I want to do,” he says. “I felt like that was a great match.”

That is how Mitchell felt about Dominican after he graduated from Lewis & Clark High School in Spokane. Though he considered the Illinois Institute of Technology and University of Denver, Mitchell liked what he saw in the balanced academic/athletics structure on his men’s lacrosse recruiting visit to San Rafael.

“Going through lacrosse recruiting had been hectic and then I come to Dominican and there’s beautiful landscaping and I’m walking around campus and it’s like everybody knows each other in athletics and the guys on the team were super welcoming. I remember thinking `This school has everything figured out.’ ”

Dr. Christopher Leeds, Professor of Management in the Barowsky School of Business and Dominican Faculty Athletic Representative, was the first faculty member Dominican men’s lacrosse coach Sammy Vogel-Seidenberg introduced Mitchell to on campus. Mitchell connected with Dr. Leeds who helped him arrange his classes and Mitchell hit the ground running. He joined Dominican’s Honors Program as a freshman and ultimately added minors in chemistry and business administration

At the same time, Mitchell played lacrosse for the Penguins and embraced the support and camaraderie that came with that. Albeit, his first season was cut short because of the pandemic. The team was in Georgia scheduled to play Georgia Tech in Atlanta when the March 13, 2020 match was canceled and the Penguins returned to the San Francisco Bay Area when a stay-at-home order was directed by California Governor Gavin Newsom on March 19. Since then, Mitchell has played what he calls a “Swiss Army Knife” role with the team playing multiple positions. Lately, he has become a faceoff specialist or “fogo” for the team – slang for face off get off. His patience has paid off as the Penguins last season qualified for the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association playoffs for the first time and competed again in the MCLA playoff quarterfinals at UC Santa Barbara on April 23.

In fact Mitchell, a music buff, played the National Anthem with his electric guitar prior to the Penguins’ Senior Day game vs. Cal at Kennelly Field on April 15.

“Mitchell is a hardworking guy who took a bit to find his role, but once he did he excelled,” Coach Vogel-Seidenberg says. “He is a strong leader and is not afraid to speak up or get people to fall in line. He is part of our faceoff unit but is a guy who can do it all. He can take faceoffs, play defensive midfield, and even put the ball in the back of the net. He is a kid with a never-give-up attitude and works as hard as anyone on and off the field.”

Mitchell will take that mindset into the field of dentistry. He was inspired to become a doctor by his mother, Stacie Sanders, who is an anesthesiologist at a hospital in Spokane. But Mitchell made up his mind in middle school that he wanted to become a dentist because of the impact his pediatric dentist had on him.

“I was always insecure about my teeth because I had a big gap between my two front teeth and I’d always get picked on at school,” Mitchell says. “After having braces, I felt like a different person. My smile was completely different. I had more confidence. I was more outgoing.”

Between his sophomore and junior years at Dominican Mitchell earned a summer internship shadowing his former dentist in his office. That helped Mitchell learn more about the profession and gave him more exposure to dental patients, including one particular five-year-old girl who needed major dental work. It motivated Mitchell to want to make a difference in people’s lives.

“I want to own my own practice,” he says. “In the end I’d like to open a low-income clinic where people who can’t afford traditional dental care can come in. I want to be able to do everything by myself.”

You May Also Like