Learning Experience: What a Project Pivot Taught Jade Kim and Suyeon Kim

By: Javacia Harris Bowser

Nelson Mandela once said, “I never lose. I either win or learn.”

Jade Kim and Suyeon Kim have maintained this same attitude as they’ve worked on their project for the 2023-2024 Albert Schweitzer Fellowship.

At first, Jade and Suyeon had plans to partner with North Alabama’s Area Health Education Center (AHEC) to organize the second Remote Area Medical (RAM) pop-up clinic in Alabama to address the lack of access to dental, medical, and optometry care in rural areas. But they struggled to get their plans approved.

Next, the second-year dental students sought to start Dental Explorers, a program designed to encourage middle schoolers in rural Alabama to consider future careers in dentistry. But being added to the curriculum of their target schools proved challenging.

Nevertheless, Jade and Suyeon – both students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry —  didn’t give up. Instead, they’re doing presentations at afters chool programs in Birmingham and surrounding areas.

A presentation at a YMCA in downtown Birmingham was a huge hit. What was set to be a 30-minute workshop went on for much longer because the kids were so engaged.

“They were making so many comments about their teeth, their experience at the dentist, and what their parents say about their teeth,” Jade shares. “And they were asking so many questions about how to brush their teeth and floss.”

At the end of the talk, the kids were asking if Jade and Su could come back and give another presentation.

“I’m just glad that we gave those kids a chance to be exposed to what dentistry is and what we do as professionals,” Jade says.

The biggest success story of the project, however, is the impact it’s had on Jade and Su.

“Jade and I really learned things that we weren’t expecting to learn through this project,” Su says. “Through this project, we’ve really honed our professionalism and communication skills.”

This was thanks to all the cold calls they had to make along the way.

“I’ve gained a lot of confidence during this project,” Su adds. “I learned how to ask for help. I learned how to communicate professionally, and I think those are all transferable skills for the future.”

As for the future, Su hopes to specialize in periodontology, an area of dentistry that studies supporting structures of teeth, as well as diseases and conditions that affect them.

Jade isn’t sure what she wants to focus on in the future but this experience has her pondering working with kids. She’s also determined to help launch another pop-up clinic in Alabama.

A Virginia native, Su said her Albert Schweitzer Fellowship experience has allowed her to learn more about Birmingham and Alabama.

“We definitely learned a lot about how to navigate the dental school system and we’ve made a lot of connections,” Su adds.

Many Albert Schweitzer fellows must pivot during the course of their projects, and each about-face has the potential to teach the fellows something that will help them in school, in their careers, and beyond.

Jade sums up her most valuable lesson this way: “I learned that there is no such thing as failure as long as you learn from an experience.”