Support that propelled a career

Annika Johnson, DDS ’22, got an early start on her dental education thanks to a special mentor. Her mom, Becky Johnson, graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in 1992. 

“I spent much of my childhood in her dental office greeting patients, handing out toothbrushes and helping at community fairs,” recalled Johnson, who grew up in Northfield, MN. “I even got to assist with emergencies on weekends when nobody else was available. I loved it.”

But despite what many of her friends and fellow students may believe, those early experiences are not the reason Johnson chose dentistry. 

“My first career interest was surgery, and I had been considering taking the traditional route through medical school,” explained Johnson. “But then I discovered oral and maxillofacial surgery. After shadowing a few mentors, I realized that the best route to a career in that area was through dental school. Not only did it seem to match my personality, it fit my goals for patient care.” 

Part of what has made that schooling possible for Johnson is the financial aid she has received from the School of Dentistry. That aid includes two awards: the Omicron Kappa Upsilon Beta Beta Scholarship and the Townsend Scholarship-funded Academic Skill Award.     

The Omicron Kappa Upsilon (OKU) Award is a $4,000 annual award presented by the national dental honor society, which consists of elected distinguished faculty and student members who have demonstrated excellence in the field of dentistry. As part of OKU’s mission and through the generosity of its members, scholarships are given in the final year of dental school to deserving students such as Johnson who have a 3.5 or higher grade point average, demonstrate outstanding character and show continued financial need.

The Townsend Academic Skill Award is presented to an outstanding student who is truly committed to learning and demonstrates this by completing assignments on time, asking good questions, and seeking and incorporating feedback in order to become the best possible dentist.

The awards have been invaluable to Johnson. They have helped her pay her tuition and have enabled her to attend professional conferences, including the American Association of Oral Maxillofacial Surgeons Annual Meeting, held in Nashville in fall 2021.

“Not only was I able to attend, I was able to do so with faculty members,” said Johnson. “It was great to experience that professional camaraderie and to participate in so many educational sessions.”

The School’s financial support is also helping Johnson achieve her next goal: a four-year residency. 

“The residency application process is extremely expensive,” she noted. “With the average student submitting 20 or more applications, it adds up fast. Plus there are supplemental fees and the cost of traveling to and from interviews, none of which are factored into the loans we are given by the government or the University.”

Johnson won’t know where she has been accepted for a residency until January (she has applied to several programs, including the University’s Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Training Program), but wherever she goes, she will bring with her all the skills she needs to succeed. She will also bring gratitude for all the great experiences she’s enjoyed along the way.

Those experiences include volunteering at Hope Dental Clinic in St. Paul, where people from throughout Minnesota can receive free dental care. “I try to be there two nights a month,” said Johnson. “It’s been a great learning experience and something I really enjoy.” 

Plus, it has given Johnson a taste of what she looks forward to doing more of down the road: working directly with patients and having the autonomy to donate her services to those in need.

Johnson is just one example of a student impacted by the generosity of donors such as Ralph and Dorothy Townsend, who, in appreciation for their education, created an endowed scholarship fund in 1997 to support dental students. Ralph received his DDS degree in 1945, and Dorothy graduated with a nursing degree in 1948. Their gift has had a lasting impact on U of M dental students like Johnson. If you are interested in learning more about endowed scholarships, please contact Emily Best at 612-625-6811 or [email protected].