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Annelise Shaw and Ali Sultan are paying it forward. 

Shaw and Sultan, D.M.D. students in the OHSU School of Dentistry, can point to the moments that inspired their educational journeys and the people that influenced them. While those experiences shaped their professional aspirations, they also instilled a desire to guide and support others.  

For Shaw, a third-year slated to graduate in 2025, it started with her grandpa and what they called their “Big Red Book.” Growing up in Los Angeles, she’d follow her grandpa outside in search of plants to fill it with. They’d look up each one, cut out articles and write down the scientific names of the flora they’d categorize. Shaw’s inquisitiveness continued when she was fitted for braces in middle school. She was so curious about the process that she eventually began shadowing her orthodontist. Her interest grew, and before long, she knew she wanted to become a dentist.  

“Dentistry is always changing, always improving. I’m curious about what’s happening in this field.”

Annelise Shaw

“My grandpa was really fascinated with details and how everything was formed, and me being with him every day really instilled that in me,” said Shaw, who earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Azusa Pacific University. “Dentistry is always changing, always improving. I’m curious about what’s happening in this field. His influence has definitely gotten me to the place I am now.” 

Sultan, a fourth-year set to graduate in 2024, came to the U.S. from Bahrain when he was 16, went to high school in Tennessee and earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. One summer during his undergraduate studies, Sultan went home to work as an assistant for his father, who owns a dentist practice in Bahrain. Serving people’s oral health care needs was fulfilling in a way that supplemented his interest in philosophy. 

“All throughout my life I’ve had really good mentors. I think it fulfills a kind of feeling of responsibility in me to do that for other people.”

Ali Sultan

“Growing up around my dad, he helped so many people,” Sultan said. “He gave a lot of free care. People really respected that and admired what he did. … My moral philosophy classes really made me think about what my responsibility is toward other people. We as humans have a responsibility to serve people. In that moment, I felt like my calling was through health care — specifically dentistry.” 

As their undergraduate programs wrapped up, Shaw and Sultan began looking for a dental school that would align with their ideals. Shaw looked for an innovative program where she could continue chasing her research interests. Sultan’s ideal program championed service to others and diversity. Both looked for programs that prioritized student support. OHSU checked all their boxes. 

“When I visited the campus, I felt like everybody was very real,” Sultan said. “They didn’t try to grill you. I feel like in some interviews, it almost felt like you had to perform. But OHSU aligned with the type of person that I am.” 

“I was looking for schools that were up to date with their technology, that had good faculty who were well known in their field,” Shaw said. “I did research in undergrad and wanted to continue it here. The field of dentistry is improving with technology, and that was something I wanted to be involved in.” 

When Shaw and Sultan arrived at OHSU, they were paired with third- and fourth-year dentistry students as part of the School of Dentistry Student Ambassador Program. The students answered their questions and helped them navigate their first steps at OHSU. Now, Shaw and Sultan are mentors themselves, and they hope to similarly help prospective and incoming dental students find their way.  

“Dental school is a major step,” Shaw said. “It’s cool to be able to offer wisdom, and it’s also humbling because I’m realizing how much I’ve grown and learned these last two years. Now I get to share that with somebody else.”  

“All throughout my life I’ve had really good mentors,” Sultan said. “I think it fulfills a kind of feeling of responsibility in me to do that for other people. If I can be half as good as the people who mentored me, I’ll be happy with that.” 

When Shaw and Sultan arrived on campus, their student mentors took them under their wing. Now, they’re glad to impart what wisdom they can to the newcomers. 

“I’m here to be open with you, to be honest, to give you my experience and support you,” Sultan said.  

“My mentor brought so much peace,” Shaw added. “I figured since it was so beneficial for me, I’d love to do that for somebody else.” 

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