Developing scholar from Dodge City helps Panamanian children with dental care
Monday, Oct. 21, 2013
MANHATTAN -- Helping others and sharing knowledge are important to Kansas State University student Eduardo Acosta. That's why the senior in biology and pre-dentistry, Dodge City, spent part of his summer in Panama working with children.
Acosta participated in a two-week summer dental mission trip to rural Panama, where he served as a dental assistant and helped children with their dental hygiene. His trip was through International Service Learning, a nongovernmental organization that sends medical and educational volunteer teams to help underserved populations in Central and South America, Mexico, the Caribbean and Africa. Acosta received trip support from Kansas State University's Developing Scholars Program, of which he is a member. The program provides underrepresented students opportunities to conduct research projects with a faculty mentor. Students in the program receive academic, social and financial support while participating in the discovery and creation of new knowledge at Kansas State University.
Before traveling overseas, Acosta first got some experience in the dental field so that he could be as involved as possible on the mission. With help from his dentist, he served as a dental assistant for a couple of months.
"The two months I spent working as a dental assistant really paid off during this trip because I was able to assist with fillings and extractions," Acosta said. "Being bilingual also helped tremendously as I was able to communicate with patients easier."
Acosta and his group focused on providing their services to children because they are in the greatest need of dentistry in developing countries. The team provided prevention and public health dentistry services, as well as diagnosing and treating those who needed immediate treatment.
The mission's educational focus meant the most to him, Acosta said. He and his group taught local residents how to brush and floss and gave presentations on the effects of not maintaining proper oral health.
"It does no good to treat patients if we don't show them how to maintain their dental health; it defeats the purpose of our visit," said Acosta. "Being pre-dental students, our duties were to instruct kids on how to maintain their oral health."
In their free time, Acosta and his team interacted with local residents and learned about their culture. That meant playing soccer with the local children, learning how to salsa and going on long hikes throughout the jungles of Panama.
The trip helped solidify Acosta's decision to become a dentist.
His dentistry dreams began in high school when he started becoming more interested in science and anatomy and physiology classes. During his third semester of college, Acosta became a tutor to help fellow students with their academics. He debated becoming a science teacher, but realized he could do greater good as a dentist.
"I came to the conclusion that I could combine my desire for sharing my knowledge with my love for science and apply it to an area of greater need," Acosta said. "I chose dentistry because I think that oral health is one of the most important aspects of individual health and wellness, yet often the most overlooked. I would love to be a dentist and contribute to increasing the awareness of oral health issues, as well as diagnose and provide treatment and education for my patients."
Acosta also said the Developing Scholars Program has made a big difference in his future plans. Acosta is working on a research project with Frank White, professor of plant pathology, to analyze the phenomenon of bacterial movement thorough fungal hyphae. They are trying to determine the genes that are responsible for allowing bacteria to use these fungal hyphae as a way of transportation.
"Developing Scholars has given me the necessary tools to go forward through the opportunity to network with other students with interests similar to mine," Acosta said. "The program also has contributed tremendously in my preparation for professional school."
After finishing his studies, Acosta wants to go back to Panama as a professional and provide his services.
Acosta is the son of Eduardo and Delia Acosta, Dodge City, and a graduate of Dodge City High School and Dodge City Community College.