Danika Lund has overcome more than her share of obstacles on her journey toward dental school. Whether it was not being credited for two years of science classes or a clerical error keeping her bachelor’s degree from being posted on her official transcripts, Lund refused to give up.Her determination has paid off. A lead tutor at the Cuyamaca College STEM Center, Lund this fall is heading to the nationally renowned University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, with tuition and housing costs covered through a prestigious Army scholarship.
“I’ve seen Danika go through a lot of ups and downs, but her determination never waned and she never lost her focus,” said Cuyamaca College Chemistry Professor Robert Anness. “Hers is one of the more inspiring success stories I’ve seen.”Lund credits Cuyamaca College for her success. “I really can’t tell you how grateful I am,” she said. “I really can’t thank the people here at Cuyamaca enough.”
It has, she agreed, been a long road. “I like to call it ‘the scenic route’ to dental school,” quipped Lund, who is now 26.That scenic route took her across much of the Western United States.
Born and raised in Bonita and a graduate of Valhalla High School, Lund was a prep soccer standout whose skills as a center midfielder scored her a full athletic soccer scholarship at New Mexico Highlands University. There, she balanced a heavy load of courses and soccer while majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry. Two years later, Lund transferred to UC Davis for its rigorous academics and reputable standing to be a more competitive applicant for dental school. Lund’s first setback came when UC Davis would not credit her with the bevy of science classes she completed at New Mexico Highlands. Rather than starting from scratch and spending a full four years at UC Davis as a biology major, Lund had a better idea: switch her major to sociology, graduate on track with a bachelor’s degree in two years, then head to Cuyamaca College for a low-cost opportunity to retake the science classes she was never given credit for.
Lund enrolled at Cuyamaca College in the fall of 2015, thrived academically, became a STEM tutor and co-founded and presided over the Cuyamaca College Pre-Dental Club to mentor others contemplating going into the dental profession.In the summer of 2017, Lund began months of intense study in preparing for the Dental Admission Test (DAT).
“She was a fixture at the study table in the STEM Center at all hours of the day throughout the summer when nobody else is even on campus,” Anness said. “I’ve never seen anybody study so hard for anything in my life.”She left a similar impression on Chemistry Professor Laurie LeBlanc. “Danika was relentless,” LeBlanc said. “She wasn’t going to let anything get in her way.”It is, those who have studied for the exam say, a killer. But for Lund, the education she found at Cuyamaca and the support and guidance she received from professors Kathryn Nette, Robert Anness and others, she was confident she would ace it. “They helped me every step of the way,” Lund said.
It paid off. Lund placed in the 99th percentile nationwide in the science portion of the exam, and she placed in the 96th percentile on the exam overall. But she set her sights higher. Not just wanting to get into dental school, Lund had also applied for the ultra-competitive Army Health Professions Scholarship Program to pay for the exorbitant cost. Which turned out to be fortuitous in more ways than one.
“I wasn’t getting any responses from dental schools early on in the cycle, no invitations for interviews or anything,” Lund said. “I was starting to lose hope. Then one day my Army recruiter called me and said, ‘Hey, I’ve been looking at your official transcripts from UC Davis for about 30 minutes and I don’t see a degree posted.’” Lund was stunned. Because of a clerical error, UC Davis had failed to post her bachelor’s degree on Lund’s official transcripts, and that resulted in dental schools ignoring her applications. “You can’t get into a doctoral program with a high school diploma,” she said. “Once we got this changed and had my bachelor’s degree posted, the dental school interview invitations started pouring in. I was accepted to every school I interviewed at.”
Better yet, Lund also landed the Army scholarship, which covers more than $500,000 in tuition, housing and other costs in exchange for Lund serving as a commissioned Army officer and working as a military dentist when she earns her doctor of dental surgery degree.Her experience at Cuyamaca has made her a believer in the college.
“I found nothing but support here,” Lund said. “Your professors truly care. They all want to see you do well. They want to see you succeed.“I went straight into a four-year university right after high school,” Lund added. “When you take general chemistry, biology or other general science courses you are thrown into an auditorium with 550 classmates. At Cuyamaca, you are one of 20 people in the classroom. The professor knows your name. They have office hours so you can come in and actually get help when you need it. True learning goes on. It transforms your entire learning environment and experience.”
Come June 6 when Cuyamaca College holds its 41st annual commencement ceremony, Lund won’t be earning a degree. She won’t be earning a certificate. But she will have accomplished what few others have. Lund’s ‘scenic route’ is nearly over. She begins the next leg of her journey when she moves to San Francisco for dental school on July 15.
“Danika is probably one of the most industrious students I’ve ever seen,” said Nette. “She deserves every good thing that happens to her.”