Furthering future careers through service
Student Jonelle Romero hopes to become a dentist one day, putting in motion East Carolina University’s mission to serve.
As she prepares to help others, she’s also getting a little help herself through the ECU Access Scholarship program that provides grants to students who demonstrate academic potential and financial need. The $5,000 annual award ($2,500 per semester) covers tuition, fees and books.
“It’s vital really to my education because without it I have to worry about finances and I can’t spend as much time focusing on my education,” said Romero, a rising junior.
As an Access Scholar, Romero has to complete at least 20 hours of volunteer service each year. Her freshman year, she volunteered about 50 hours at the Greenville Community Shelter (now called the Community Crossroads Center) and still volunteers there from time to time. For her sophomore year, she spent about double the required time at the Making Pitt Fit Community Garden in Greenville and continues to volunteer there.
“I like to to kind of delve into something new, but still keep doing my old thing,” she said. “The more I volunteer out here, the more I learn, the more I can take home and grow something.”
Her work ethic doesn’t go unnoticed.
“For her, there’s no set limit in terms of hours. It’s just as long as she can help and be of help, then she’ll keep on going,” said Joni Torres, manager at the community garden, adding that Romero is accessible and thorough with her work.
“I feel like the more I learn, the more I can help people and the more I can have an impact on the world,” she said. “I need that kind of backpack of knowledge to help me affect change and actually do something in the world.”
Romero goes above and beyond when it comes to learning. After a sociology class ended for the semester, she still had questions for teaching instructor Kathy Jones. They met several times and discussed various topics, including race and its role in health. None of these meetings were part of the class.
“She wanted empirical evidence and she wanted to have a critical understanding. She wanted to know why we continue to do [prejudices] and why some things changed,” Jones said. “She wanted to understand it so that she can be a part of the change.”
“While we were learning stuff in class, there were so many other questions that I had and questions on topics we weren’t even going over, so I felt like I really needed to discuss them with somebody that had the knowledge and experience and could kind of fact check me,” Romero said.
And there was another reason.
“I think personally that it would help me as a future dentist because I think that sociology, philosophy, anthropology – classes where you’re studying society and human interaction and how people think and perceive things – can really help the patient-health care provider interaction and that’s really important,” Romero added.
To get a closer look at the dentistry profession, Romero observed staff members at Eastern Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry in Greenville last fall.
“A lot of times when we get shadows in, they stand back and observe, sometimes they ask questions, sometimes they don’t… but Jonelle wanted to be thorough and know why you were doing what you were doing and what it was for and everything,” said dental assistant Melissa Butts.
Romero’s shadowing gave her the opportunity to see firsthand how dentists can make a difference by making patients comfortable and improving their smiles.
“The cool thing was, I also shadowed an oral surgeon so I got to see how they installed the mouthpiece that they used to move around the teeth. Then I got to come in and see how they work and adjust that mouthpiece so that the teeth are aligned properly,” Romero said.
Romero is grateful for the opportunities she has had due to her scholarship and hopes to mentor future ECU Access Scholars.
“I’ve thought about becoming a philanthropist and doing the same thing when I graduate. It’s really inspiring. I know other students who also receive the scholarship they want to do the same thing,” Romero said. “It’s really great to kind of pay it forward.”
For more information about scholarships at East Carolina University, including the Access Scholarship, visit www.ecu.edu/universityscholarships.