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If you ask Wanda Nguyen about her career plans, she does not hesitate with her answer: She will graduate from Northeastern Illinois University, attend dental school and eventually become an orthodontist, she says. And then she smiles.
Nguyen hasn’t always been so quick to smile. As a child, she was teased and bullied by her classmates for having crooked teeth. She became shy and withdrawn. But after receiving orthodontic treatment at 21, Nguyen’s self-confidence skyrocketed.
“I began smiling more, laughing more and was comfortable raising my hand to speak out loud in class,” she said. “It was unbelievable to me how much I was able to change as a person and to not be afraid to speak.”
With her confidence now at an all-time high, Nguyen is president of Northeastern’s Future Health Professionals club and is on track to earn her bachelor’s degree in Biology in 2017 and pursue her dreams. In many ways, though, Nguyen already is living her dream.
So driven to help people, Nguyen did some research and discovered an organization called MEDLIFE (Medicine, Education, and Development for Low-Income Families Everywhere) that helps provide health care to communities in need across the world. In March 2016, Nguyen participated in a MEDLIFE mission to Lima, Peru.
“To become a dentist is a lifetime goal of mine,” said Nguyen, a graduate of Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago. “When I worked alongside a dentist in Peru and was given the opportunity to assist her to give dental care to those in need, I knew I belonged in a field where I will always be willing to help and give my heart to people who need me. I saw how much it meant to them and it further solidified my goals. The whole experience changed my life.”
If the experience could change her life, Nguyen felt it could do the same for other Northeastern students. Working with MEDLIFE headquarters in Peru, and collaboration with other universities that work with MEDLIFE, Nguyen founded a MEDLIFE chapter at Northeastern.
Her aim in creating the chapter is to educate members about how to participate in medical mission trips and to help them reach their career goals through the club resources. The new chapter already has its sights set on a mission to India in December.
“Our university did not have an organization like this, where students can conveniently volunteer and travel to other countries to service those in need,” Nguyen said. “Since I had already participated in one, I wanted to be the resource for Northeastern students whether they are pre-health or not to also embark on the same experience as I did.”
Nguyen’s motivation and energy are major components of her success according to pre-health advisor David Nissim-Sabat.
“Wanda has a fantastic attitude and is always excited about what's to come next—be in classes or new experiences,” he said.
This path is a departure from Nguyen’s initial plan, which was to study business. Over time, she decided to drop business and pursue dentistry, transferring to Northeastern from Harry S. Truman College in 2014.
“I chose to attend Northeastern because of the smaller class size and affordable tuition,” Nguyen said. “I have loved how easy it has been to get to know the professors and have them get to know me. The students and faculty here are very supportive and do everything they can to help each other succeed.”
Nguyen’s Biology lab partner said her friend embodies that spirit.
“Seeing Wanda’s hard work motivates me to try harder in all my classes,” Diana Alzate said. “She's also very dedicated to things outside of class like being president of the Future Health Professionals club, starting a chapter of MEDLIFE at Northeastern, and shadowing dentists on the weekends. Not only is she involved in so many activities, but you'll always see a smile on her face. She's a super positive and a selfless person who always wants the best for you and will always offer help if you need it.”