Senior Ashley Onwu arrived looking for diversity, now is leaving to pursue a career in dentistry
Ashley Onwu is always looking to meet new people and explore new cultures.
Growing up, the Upper Marlboro, Md. native had gone to predominately African-American elementary, middle and high schools. And while she loves her culture, she knew she wanted to go somewhere that was more diverse.
So, after spending two years at Prince Georges Community College, Onwu chose to finish her college career at Towson University, where she got to meet new people from different backgrounds from across the country.
“It’s been very nice just seeing how Towson University works to include everybody,” Onwu says. “All these different groups that come together with an open conversation just to know who are you.
“That’s been my experience at TU…I’ve seen it as very accepting in my eyes.”
Onwu will graduate from TU this May with a degree in biology with a concentration in cell and molecular biology — which isn’t much of a surprise to her family, who all have careers as health professionals.
Her dad Francis is a nurse, her mom Chioma is a nurse anesthetist, while her older sister Crystal is currently in school to become a pharmacist. And while some people thought she might get tired of science, her appreciation for it only grew.
“I love science and chemistry because it answers everything,” Onwu says. “I know how the body works. I know what your body is made of. I understand the trees and the grass, and how we breathe, and how we walk. Just having that perspective in life, I feel like it's so beneficial.”
When it came to finding a career, she didn’t want to stray too far from STEM and health professions. And as she was searching for a STEM career she could relate to, she remembered the one compliment her friends would always give her — that she was funny.
At first, she didn’t consider it much of a compliment. But as she matured and realized the importance of humor, she started to like making people smile. She then figured that if she’s going to make people smile a lot, why not fix their teeth as well.
So, after she graduates from TU, she’ll head down to College Station, Texas to attend Texas A&M’s College of Dentistry.
“Making people smile and dentistry plays hand-In-hand,” Onwu says. “You can be an entrepreneur and be your own kind of dentist. The flexibility in dentistry is something I admire so much, and so that really drew me into becoming a dentist.”
This past summer, Onwu was able to travel to Texas A&M for six weeks for a summer intensive program where she started learning the basics of this advanced profession. Each week she had a weekly exam on subjects such as cardiovascular and oral histology, neuroscience and pathophysiology.
The interview process to get into the summer intensive program was difficult, but she credits Towson University for getting her ready. Not only did she know the science from her biology major, but she got interview tips from the Career Center’s Matthew Smith.
Smith, who works as the STEM Career Community’s Career Coach, helped Onwu get ready for any potential interview questions that she would encounter.
“Matt helped me learn to stay calm in an interview,” Onwu says. “He made me develop answers on why I want to do dentistry, what I want to do with dentistry, what are my strengths, my weaknesses and just really understanding who I was.”
Onwu's decision to attend Texas A&M for dental school is also on brand with who she is. When asked the main reason why this life-long Maryland native chose to go all the way to Texas for school, the answer was simple.
For its diversity.
“Not only is it one of the best dental schools in country, but it’s also one of the most diverse,” Onwu says. “I just fell in love with it.”
And while she’s going to Texas, she’s not going to forget her roots. Her ultimate goal is to go to Nigeria, where both her parents were born, and help people understand the importance of oral care.
She also hopes to come back to the Greater Baltimore area to show young African-American women that there are great careers in not only health, but also in the different STEM fields.
“I came to Towson and I was exposed to so many great things that it changed me completely,” Onwu says “I’m going to miss it here, but I’m going to come back and help. I know where I’m going and that is to become a dentist, and become what I need for this community.”
This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel’s priorities for Towson University: Diverse and Inclusive Campus.