Dental determination

CATEGORIES: News, Students
Jackson Stigers portrait
Jackson Stigers. Photo by Alyson O’Hara.

Jackson Stigers (’22 biology, psychology) had a clear plan for his professional goals in high school. He wanted to become a dentist, which would require earning an undergraduate degree and preparing a competitive application to dental school.

“I had to make sure that whatever I majored in would check all the dental school prerequisites,” he said. “Biology is a perfect major for many pre-health students like me because we can get our degree while simultaneously completing all necessary prerequisites for our respective graduate school programs.”

Luckily, just up the interstate from his home of Johnston, Iowa, was Iowa State—and its excellent undergraduate biology program.

“I chose Iowa State for many reasons, but mostly because I knew that the academic programs are top tier, especially the biology program,” Stigers said. “Iowa State also gave me a sense of home away from home, and I realized that the minute my campus tour started way back during my senior year of high school.”

It proved to be a great choice. Stigers has earned his acceptance to the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, where he will pursue a doctor of dental surgery degree next fall.

A perfect pre-health plan

In addition to its rigorous academics, Stigers also chose Iowa State for its student organizations. He’s been highly involved in the Iowa State Pre-Health Conference, Iowa State Blood Drive and Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, experiences that helped him hone leadership, communication and social skills, and a dedicated work ethic.

“Student clubs propelled me in a direction for success,” he said. “They’ve connected me with some great people and lifelong friends. Being surrounded by students who have similar goals in life as you do is a huge help in college and a major driving force for me to be successful. If I never joined any of these groups, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Stigers said he appreciates how active Iowa State faculty are in student success, including Kent Kerby, assistant dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who helps advise student leaders for Iowa State’s Pre-Health Conference.

“Dr. Kent Kerby has helped countless students besides me prepare for a career in health-related fields,” he said. “The conference aims to provide a connection between pre-health students and graduate schools and professionals and current graduate students within their prospective fields. Without Dr. Kerby, it wouldn’t be possible, and for that, I am extremely grateful.”

Learning outside the classroom

While at Iowa State, Stigers completed over 100 hours of job shadowing with dental professionals, which helped affirm that dentistry was the right career choice for him. Plus, he now has several dentists he can call at any time with questions.

“I highly encourage any pre-dental or pre-health student to do the same,” he said, “as it allows you to get a peek into what your day-to-day life will look like in the future and if it’s something you really want to pursue. I enjoyed getting to know the dentists that I shadowed. Learning more about what it takes to interact with patients all day and run a practice is super valuable.”

Stigers also prepared for dental school by conducting undergraduate molecular genetics research with Maura McGrail, associate professor of genetics, development and cell biology; and Sekhar Kambakam, Iowa State research scientist.

Participating in research helped Stigers challenge himself by building knowledge in a new field, learning to use advanced lab instruments and collaborating with scientists.

“I learned I could take on new complex tasks and concepts and learn them quickly,” he said. “This is crucial for my next adventure in dental school, as it is notoriously difficult during the first two years.”

Looking forward, giving back

“My goals are to be the best dentist I can be and provide high-quality dental care to patients while ensuring their comfort and safety,” Stigers said.

He also hopes to one day mentor other students and help them cultivate their own pre-health success. For future or current students with pre-health goals, Stigers shared this advice.

“Jump right in and get involved early,” he said. “Whether it’s clubs or student organizations, or even just being a teaching assistant for a class you enjoyed, doing something other than schoolwork is sometimes more valuable than some classes you take. Meet people, get to know your professors within your department and give it everything you have. It will all be worth it come graduation!”