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UCSF School of Dentistry Admits First 'Dreamers'

January 16, 2015

Laura Aguilar and José Carrasco Sandoval For José Carrasco Sandoval and Laura Aguilar, perseverance, an executive order and UCSF’s commitment to diversity open the doors to a career in dentistry.

In many ways, José Carrasco Sandoval and Laura Aguilar are like other students joining the UCSF School of Dentistry Class of 2019. They grew up in Northern California, are standout students and want to give back to their communities in meaningful ways when they finish dental school. But they are unlike their peers in one important way: They are Dreamers, and their achievement represents a particular triumph in the midst of shifting political winds.

“Ever since I was in high school, I knew I wanted to be a doctor of some kind,” says José, who graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in molecular and cell biology. “I also knew from an early age that our family had a special condition we called sin papeles, meaning ‘without papers,’ and that realizing my dream would be a challenge without having legal citizenship. José’s parents came to Napa from Jalisco, Mexico, when he was two years old.

Laura’s story is similar to José’s. Her parents came to Napa from Guadalajara when she was four. “I wanted to be a dentist but remember thinking it didn’t seem possible because of my status,” she says. “I decided to just keep trying and to stay positive.”

The door to their dreams edged open with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), a new American immigration policy implemented by the Obama administration in June 2012. The policy allows certain immigrants — otherwise known as Dreamers — who entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation.

As a result of DACA, “For the first time, I could apply for programs, internships, jobs, scholarships and financial aid to help pursue my professional goals,” Laura says. “Not to mention simpler things like getting a driver’s license, establishing credit and opening a bank account.”

UC San Francisco has a long-standing commitment to building a broadly diverse student community. As such, it works hard to create programs that provide additional support for students from underrepresented groups.

“Students with diverse backgrounds, such as those with DACA status, bring an important component to the university,” says John D.B. Featherstone, Dean of the UCSF School of Dentistry. “One of my highest priorities is that we do everything possible to open the doors to dental education for the best and the brightest, regardless of their social or economic backgrounds.”

As an initial introduction to UCSF, Laura attended Inside UCSF, an annual two-day event geared toward students at two- and four-year degree schools who are interested in pursuing careers in health and science. “The students and faculty I met at Inside UCSF were very inspiring, welcoming and supportive,” she says. “They encouraged us to keep working and made us aware of available resources.”

José enrolled in a first-of-its-kind post-baccalaureate program offered by the School of Dentistry. “The purpose of the program is to help those who have demonstrated the ability to overcome hardship and who we think will ultimately be successful here,” says James Betbeze, Assistant Dean for Enrollment Management and Outreach with the School of Dentistry.

“José and Laura are two of the brightest, most driven individuals I’ve encountered,” says Daniel Ramos, DDS, a professor at the UCSF School of Dentistry who supported them through the process. “They’ve overcome insurmountable odds to now be in a position to be able to help the community from which they came.”

“DACA students are often particularly committed to underserved populations, because they may grow up in communities without ready access to dental care,” he adds. “They personally understand those challenges and have an inherent motivation to try and address them.”

José envisions working in a community dental practice. “At some point, I’d like to be a director for a community clinic, where I can help low-income and immigrant populations,” he says.

When Laura volunteered at a health clinic in Riverside, Calif., “I saw the adversities that others face and realized how lucky I was to have parents that supported my education,” she notes. “I saw huge disparities, not just in health, but in education and in the way that people’s lives played out.” Laura tentatively plans to be a general dentist, and is also considering becoming a periodontist.

Like other young people with DACA status, both José and Laura see themselves as more than future dentists. Because of their backgrounds and the opportunities they’ve been given, they both seek to make life better for others.

“I’ve seen the good that comes from when someone believes in you and gives you a chance,” says Laura. “It has shaped the kind of role model I want to become.”


Laura Aguilar and José Carrasco Sandoval
(Photo courtesy 
Alejandra Rincón, UCSF Office of Diversity and Outreach)