Sydney McKennaThe smell of deep-dish pizza wafts through the streets of the “Windy City.” A sea of ecstatic baseball fans floods the Blue Line subway train headed to a rally downtown. We are in Chicago, Ill., for ASDA’s 2016 National Leadership Conference (NLC) 30 hours after the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. Amidst the chaos in the streets, there was also a tremendous feeling of pride and excitement. At the same time, in the conference rooms of the Hilton Chicago on the other side of Michigan Avenue, ASDA members exhibited a profound display of passion for dentistry. There was pride in being a part of something bigger with a common desire to collaborate and share inspiration.

NLC provided an array of opportunities I could not find elsewhere. For the first time, an entire track was dedicated exclusively to predentals. This included specialized breakout sessions designed to help prepare us for applying to dental school, studying for the DAT, writing personal statements and interviewing. One session included a panel of admissions officers, telling us what they look for in a candidate. These sessions not only connected us to world-class dentists and dental students, but like-minded predentals as well.

Maybe the most beneficial was the opportunity to be paired with dental students as part of the conference’s mentoring program. This provided predentals a valuable opportunity to get an inside look at life in dental school. We could learn about key differences in the culture, programming and requirements for various schools. It’s a helpful way to narrow down options in determining which schools were the best fit. In addition, the mentors made sure the predentals were including in activities, day and night. Our mentors had breakfast with us, invited us out to tour Chicago with them and even included us on a cruise around Lake Michigan.

The path to dental school seems never-ending and often overwhelming. Between GPAs, DAT scores and applications, it is easy to lose sight of why we even want this for ourselves. But as I experienced NLC, attending the sessions, networking with my fellow predentals and absorbing everything the dental students provided, I am reminded why I fell in love with dentistry. I now hold tremendous pride in being an ASDA member.

NLC brought inspiration to students from across the country. It sparked a flame that will burn as we strive towards our goals of dental school and beyond. The Chicago Cubs made history this weekend – and we can’t wait to do the same!

- Sydney McKenna, Gonzaga University '18