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Meet 2019 UMES alumna Rachel Kayongo

  • SoCal honor graduate's next stop is dentistry school in Detroit

    Tuesday, February 25, 2020
    Rachel Kayongo at orientation

    2019 UMES alumna Rachel Nantumbwe Kayongo will enroll in the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry in August 2020.  Its acceptance rate is 6.7 % and was ranked 40th among domestic dental schools, according to the 2018 U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Rankings.


    Tell us about yourself.

    I was born in Kampala, Uganda and moved to Los Angeles, Calif. at the age of four.  I'm the oldest of five children, a first-generation U.S. college graduate and a soon-to-be first-generation dentist.

    Why did you go coast-to-coast to attend college at UMES?

    I attended UMES on a volleyball scholarship and played on the team all four years.  I was ready to experience life outside of Los Angeles.  

    What was your major and concentration?

    I earned my Bachelor of Science degree in biology in May 2019 (summa cum laude). 

    What has added to your classroom experiences?

    During school breaks, I worked as a home health aide.  Now, during this gap year, I work as a client-care coordinator for a private home care franchise and as a coach for my former volleyball club.  

    I was treasurer of the UMES Dental Association and the Student Athletic Advisory Committee.  

    How did settle on dental school after UMES?

    I wanted to pursue a career in health care that would allow me to work with my hands, develop long-term relationships, own a business and have a leadership role in a team environment.

    Scholar-athlete Rachel Kayongo on the volleyball court

    Driven by my experiences as a patient, shadowing dentists of various specialties and my passion to serve areas with health disparities, dentistry checked all of those boxes for me.  Nothing beats boosting patients' confidence, putting a smile on their faces and alleviating their pain on a daily basis.  

    I'm aware of the social impact patient relationships, affordable dental care and oral health awareness have on the world.  

    Why University of Detroit Mercy?

    I applied to 13 dental schools and was accepted by Tufts University, the University of Detroit Mercy and the University of Louisville.  

    Detroit Mercy stood out because of its diverse patient pool.  Serving a community with medically compromised patients in need of dental care will expose me to a variety of challenging cases at an early point in my career.


    What experiences at UMES helped you achieve this goal?

    UMES' Department of Natural Sciences curriculum provided a broad set of options when it came to deciding what career path or kind of grad school to apply to.  With the load of prerequisites I had to take for dental school, my late decision to apply was stress free in terms of classes simply because UMES required all of them.  

    My original plan was to graduate a semester early.  My adviser, Dr. Jennifer Hearne, pushed me to take 18 credits a semester by taking challenging science courses to (make me) a competitive applicant.  

    Being a student-athlete experience taught me countless lessons of discipline, time management and leadership.  I'll never forget juggling 18 credits during volleyball season and cramming for a biochemistry exam with my teammate after early morning weight room sessions.  

    My research with Dr. Mobolaji Okulate impressed admissions counselors at the schools where I interviewed.  Considering dentistry is so hands-on, the fact I dissected mosquitoes was pretty impressive.  

    Moving from Los Angeles to Princess Anne opened my eyes to health care from a different point of view.  My exposure to a dental shortage area like the Eastern Shore has inspired me to practice in an underserved community post-graduation.  

    Who has inspired you along the way?

    Morgan Wijay, my former volleyball coach in Los Angeles has been my mentor since I was about 14 years old.  She has pushed me to be the best version of myself in every single aspect of my life.  

    Dr. Hearne also was there throughout this crazy journey of figuring out what career to pursue.  I probably went to her office two to three times to change my career path.  I'm sure she could sense my anxiety, but without hesitation she was always ready to make a plan with me.  

    Dr. Michael Tilghman and Dr. Carrie Schwartz, orthodontists on the Eastern Shore, allowed me to shadow them between classes while I was attending UMES. They made their practice a classroom for me, and I'm so thankful their staff welcomed me with open arms.  

    My mother: She instilled in me the work ethic and grind I have today. She is the reason I am the woman I've become.


    Coordinated by Gail Stephens, agricultural communications and media associate, School of Agricultural & Natural Sciences.