A Sweet Tooth for Dentistry: Combining Passion with Service

Journalists: Trish Schranck & Sara Cooly | Editor: Rachel Cornatzer | Photographer: Margaret Balliet

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While many students come to Eckerd to study sharks, psychology, or environmental conservation, Pennsylvania-native Brianna Walker ‘19, traveled a thousand miles to study teeth. Walker is a Biology major at Eckerd who realized her love for dentistry after a high school anatomy class, and she has been pursuing their care ever since.

“When you see somebody, the first thing you see is their smile.” said Walker. “And if someone is self conscious of that, then when you get into the specialties of dentistry, like orthodontics and oral surgeries, you really get to be a part of helping them build their self-esteem.”

Walker’s own bright smile is evidence of her love for her future profession. She has already gained professional experience in the field when she shadowed at the Dorneyville Dental, back home in Pennsylvania. And whilst being set on a life in dental hygiene, Walker’s life here at Eckerd consists of much more than strictly career planning. Walker is an active member of Tritones, she has a seat on the Financial Affairs Committee, and she works as a Resident Advisor (R.A.). Walker was inspired to apply to be a Resident Advisor after the positive impact her own advisor left on her during her freshman year.

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“She was one of the best R.A.s I could have ever had my freshman year.” said Walker. “She made everyone feel like such a part of this little family we had in Lukens. Even if you were super quiet, she always found a way to be a part of your life, and that’s what I wanted to be for people too. I really wanted to help people feel happy about choosing Eckerd.”

Walker is currently a second year Resident Advisor for the college, and she is among the first wave of Residential Advisors to oversee residents at Eckerd’s sister apartment complex, Alta Mar. The transition from on to off campus living wasn’t nearly as dramatic as Walker initially expected. The driving time to and from campus is under five minutes, and she’s still living with all her friends, but being in a real apartment complex has introduced Walker to some of the post-graduation, post-meal plan realities that await us all beyond 4200 54th Ave S. “It’s definitely given me a different perspective on the world.” said Walker. “I moved in and I’m like ‘oh, I need a shower curtain.’ Its things that you don’t think of buying when you’re living in a dorm or with your parents.”

Walker also works as a student intern for the Office of Service Learning, an office that is dedicated to assisting Eckerd students with getting involved in the St. Petersburg community. Her main focus at work is acting as a liaison between the students and the office. Her days are filled by assisting students planning their co-curricular projects, helping them organize and carry out tabling events, and helping students draft emails about their events. “I wrote a letter for an international student.” said Walker. “She needed a visa to go on one of the international trips, and I wrote a letter to the embassy for her, and then didn’t hear anything about it until this year when I came back into work, and my boss said, ‘Oh by the way, thanks for writing that letter. It actually worked out really well, and she went on her trip.”

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Walker is also responsible for tabling service learning informational events to keep Eckerd students up to date on the upcoming service learning events on campus, and she plays a big role in securing funding for the annual Reflective Service Learning spring break trips. The latter has proven to be Walker’s favorite part of her work as she is also a member of the Financial Affairs, and she particularly enjoys filing the Independent and Collaborative Venture forms (ICV’s) that help fund the service trips. While Walker has yet to embark on one of the trips herself, she spent her January exploring 19th century buildings, practicing her French, and eating savory crepes in Montpellier on the Language Immersion in Montpellier, France Winter Term. Winter term is a unique, month-long opportunity for Eckerd students to take one class for the month of January before jumping into the spring semester.

Walker recounted that her first couple of days in France were nerve wracking because while she had a whole group of American, Eckerd students with her, she hadn’t really interacted with them on campus. With it also being her first time abroad without her mom, Walker had a lot of emotions to process on the trip, but in the end result was an overall fantastic experience. Walker stayed with a host family during her time in Montpellier, which also enriched her experience in cultural immersion during her stay in France. Her host mother, Christine, and her son, Nelson, had an album documenting all the students and travelers they had hosted over the years, and Walker enjoyed spending time leafing through the pages and journeys of the students who had come before her and listening to her host family tell stories about each of them.

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“I don’t have one specific favorite memory of them,” said Walker. “But they liked to sing a lot. They would clean and dance at the same time, and I just felt like such a part of their little family. They were just funny, quirky people.” Walker also reflected on a few of her favorite memories of the Eckerd professors. Dr. Denise Flaherty, Dr. Steve Denison, and Dr. Zachary Dobbins were among the many professors Walker spoke fondly of. Walker particularly enjoyed her Cells and Genes class with Dr. Flaherty as it was the first science class in which she excelled because she was so genuinely excited about the subject material, rather than just needing to study the material for a grade.

When she first arrived at Eckerd, Walker was inspired by the numerous opportunities she encountered at Eckerd, but she quickly realized she was involved in too many different projects. She found herself overwhelmed at the responsibilities she’d taken on, and Walker eventually had to sit down and reflect on which activities meant the most to her and which ones she would miss, but not terribly so.

“It’s definitely important to get involved and its fun.” said Walker. “It really helps you to grow up, but part of that is making sure you’re not spreading yourself too thin. And I think it’s really important to learn that in college rather than after you graduate college. Things are important in college, you need to work hard and keep your commitments, but it’s ok if you don’t because you’re learning. Make sure to take time for yourself.”

Walker has since condensed her extracurriculars to ensure she has enough time to focus on both her studies and herself. Looking beyond the scope of academics and extracurriculars, however, the undergraduate journey serves as a catalyst for many students into the vast, murky transition from adolescence to adulthood. In Walker’s case, college has also been a lesson in time-management, tears, and trust, and she has made it through all the trials she has faced. If she could offer her Autumn Term self a piece of advice, it would be:

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“It’s all going to work out. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it's going to work out, but it all works out. Sometimes your plans get thwarted, but you just take another root, its ok. You keep learning, you keep going on, what happens happens, what doesn’t doesn’t, it’s alright. Tears are not necessary. So many tears have been shed, but they’re not necessary because it all works out in the end.”

On her path to dentistry, Brianna Walker has dibbled and dabbled in numerous extracurricular activities, been heavily involved with service and community engagement, and served as an welcoming face to incoming freshman. After her undergraduate degree is complete, Walker plans to continue on to dental school to further her studies and explore her future career opportunities. Walker’s commitment to staying positive and optimistic, in conjunction with the academic foundation she has built at Eckerd, will without a doubt take her far on her journey to improve the self-esteem of people everywhere, one tooth at a time.