Mariany Morales, a third-year student at the UW School of Dentistry, has been selected to receive a UW Latino Center for Health Student Fellowship, the center has announced. She is one of 10 University of Washington Health Sciences students to receive the award in the fellowship program’s first year.
The fellowships support the center’s mission of part of advancing the field of Latino health by building capacity to address current and emerging health issues facing diverse Latinx communities in Washington state.
“The overall aim of this program is to support the next generation of leaders and scholars who promote the health and well-being of Latinx communities in our state,” said Dr. Gino Aisenberg, associate professor in the UW School of Social Work and co-director of the center, in announcing the fellowship awards.
Morales is part of the dental school’s Regional Initiatives in Dental Education (RIDE) program. The program, which originated in 2007, seeks to improve access to care in remote and/or underserved areas of Washington, mostly east of the Cascades. Students spend their first year at the RIDE facility on the Eastern Washington University campus in Spokane, where they take classes remotely with their fellow students back in Seattle. The students also serve community clinical rotations after their first year, with a four-month rotation in their fourth and final year.
The extensive exposure to community dentistry is designed to funnel students into practice in those areas, which often have substantial Latinx populations. So far, about 75 percent of RIDE graduates have gone on to practice in Eastern Washington. Morales said that she plans to enter a one-year residency after obtaining her DDS and then become a community dentist in rural Washington.
Morales, who grew up in a migrant family in Yakima, Wash., received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry at Washington State University, where she was on the Dean’s List and won the WSU President’s Award. At the School of Dentistry, she has received the Psi Omega Scholarship, the Sea Mar Community Health Scholarship, and the Warner Lambert Scholarship.
“I chose dentistry because I wanted to be in a career where I could serve communities that are currently underrepresented,” she said. While growing up, she said, “I saw that many migrant laborers neglected their health, whether that was because of the busy lifestyle, financial hardships, cultural barriers or the mistrust in the health care system. Seeing this made me want to bridge the gap between health and the migrant community. I chose dentistry specifically because oral health is one of the areas that is most neglected.”
Morales is an officer of the UW chapter of the Hispanic Student Dental Association and serves as their lead instructor for Spanish dental terminology, helping other students improve their patient communications. She has been involved as a volunteer in dental outreaches at Seattle’s Casa Latina and in Hispanic migrant camps, as well as through Husky Smiles and Special Olympics. She also serves as a mentor to pre-health students through the Pre-Health Dreamers Program and the American Student Dental Association’s GUIDE Mentorship Program.
As an undergraduate, Morales also collaborated on entomological and other studies, with a number of them submitted or in preparation for publication. One, a study of spider mite chemical adaptation in hops fields, was published in the journal Scientific Reports in 2015.
“Mariany Morales is an outstanding and deserving candidate for this fellowship award,” said Dr. Gary Chiodo, dean of the School of Dentistry. “Her work with community organizations, including Casa Latina and outreach to Hispanic migrant camps, demonstrates her commitment to support these groups. The fact that she selected the RIDE program when she became a dental student clearly confirms her goal of serving rural and underserved communities, including those that are largely Hispanic.”
Morales said, “This fellowship not only provides me with the financial resources needed to obtain a DDS, but it refuels my dreams and aspirations to make a difference in my community. Having the support of a community such as the Latino Center for Health reminds me that I am not alone, that we are in this as a community, and that together we will advocate for our people to make sure they are heard and that their needs are met.”