COMBINING ECONOMICS AND DENTISTRY FOR SOCIAL GOOD
VANESSA PHAM ’21
Vanessa Pham ’21 experienced the Muhlenberg difference even before enrolling. Her very first college visit started her boundless growth.
“Coming out of high school, I was dead set on a dental career. So, I thought Muhlenberg would assign a science student as my tour leader. Turned out Molly was a Jewish studies major. When she spoke so movingly about her campus experiences and her study abroad, I began to think about my education more holistically. Maybe it was more than a means to an end.”
Vanessa’s shift from “dental student” to student was simple but profound. She found that at Muhlenberg, her science curriculum could coexist with business and German, her other interests. Following Molly’s example, she studied in Vienna, where she had rich interactions with students from other colleges and countries. Traveling together, they compared notes about how one’s experience of palaces, museums and centuries-old cathedrals varies with culture, religion and race.
New awareness of humanities and social sciences led the former “dental student” to a sudden passion for economics. “I just got so intrigued by how people save and spend money. Biology was interesting but intangible, harder to connect with. More of my study began to revolve around how people make decisions and live their lives.”
Economics became her first major, with biology secondary. An unusual combination? Not at Muhlenberg where novel blends are a time-honored norm. True to the boundless ideal, Vanessa explored the intersections of her disciplines, uncovering their common thread: “Whether it’s an organism or a community, I guess I’m fascinated by the underlying causes of what we see on the surface.” Her fellow economics students appreciated the collaborative style she learned as a scientist. “I helped them see what science had taught me: the need to question things from multiple angles.”
Today, “multiple angles” might be a fitting theme for Vanessa’s more nuanced career aspirations. “I still plan to be a dentist. But now I’ll use my economics background to build a practice that helps low-income people afford their care.”
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