You may find people at different stages in life who serve as mentors, both professionally and personally; some you seek out and some that catch you by surprise. Some may be obvious like parents, coaches or professors, and some may emerge in unexpected ways. For Malik Jackson, DDS ’25, it was a few key individuals who each played a part in the journey that has led him to the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine (CU SDM) and a future in dentistry.
The one who helps you figure out what you don’t like
During his junior and senior years at Colorado State University, Jackson worked as a medical scribe and quality assurance manager at Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies in Fort Collins, CO. He earned his bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and Spanish on a pre-med track; he wanted to be a doctor.
His supervisor, Kelly Mistry, MD, became a major support system for Jackson as he navigated his first professional job in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He had previously shadowed Mistry during high school in his hometown of Grand Junction, CO. When she started a new job in Fort Collins, he connected with her again.
Over time, Jackson realized that he didn’t enjoy the never-ending, high-stress hospital environment. He spoke at length about this dilemma with Mistry, and she helped him through it, encouraging him to explore more avenues and find what excites him.
Jackson was grateful to have someone with experience in the medical field to talk to. “It was nice to be able to speak openly about what I liked and didn’t like about a career as a physician. Dr. Mistry had the managerial and medical experience to guide me without pushing me in any certain direction. At this point, I knew I didn’t want to work in a hospital, but I hadn’t figured out what was next.”
The one who ignites a passion
After seeking a new dentist in the Fort Collins area, Jackson connected with Allison Lesko, DDS, of The Fort Collins Dentist. It was during his junior year of college that he asked to shadow her to explore a new avenue in health care.
“As I began to observe Dr. Lesko, I was amazed by the range of dentistry she could do herself, as opposed to referring patients to a specialist. She was doing endodontic treatments, cosmetic cases, orthodontic aligners, some surgical procedures and more. I was also impressed by her innovative approach to dentistry. The office kept up with the latest technology and advancements, which was fascinating to see.”
Over the course of his senior year, Jackson was going into Lesko’s office weekly. With more trust and experience, she began teaching him how to assist chairside. He would pass instruments and prepare materials during procedures, pour up casts of impressions in the lab, sterilize equipment, help set up and clean up dental units, and get to know patients.
“There was one patient I remember in particular who was the first to show me how rewarding a career in dentistry could be. She received a full mouth rehabilitation and couldn’t have been happier with the result. Watching her light up with excitement and newfound confidence because of something that I helped do, was incredibly empowering. I knew then that I wanted to continue helping people for the rest of my life.”
Jackson started applying to dental schools and dental assistant jobs after graduation. (Check out his commencement speech on YouTube.)
The Fort Collins Dentist team at the Crown Council Annual Event, January 2020
The one who shows you what your future could look like
From 2020 to 2021, Jackson worked as a dental assistant at Greenwood Dental Arts, a family practice in Greenwood Village managed by CU alumni father-daughter pair Charles Fischer, DDS ’79, and Lissa Alconcel, DDS ’16. He learned how a practice operates, worked directly with patients and expanded his dental knowledge. Ultimately, the experience reaffirmed his decision to become a dentist.
Jackson especially enjoyed witnessing the dynamic between Fischer and Alconcel. He was moved by the idea of sharing a passion with family and building something that would be passed on.
“Leaving a legacy is important to me. I wholeheartedly believe that everyone has the power of impact, and I strive to use that to its full potential, every day, in the best way possible.”
The Greenwood Dental Arts team, December 2020
The one who’s there for you through school
At CU SDM, Jackson has enjoyed collaborating with two professors in particular who have quickly become mentors for him in dental school: James DeLapp, DDS ’82, MS, and Amisha Singh, DDS ’15.
“Dr. DeLapp has been at the school for a long time and most of his classes are aligned to prepare us for seeing our first patient in the CU dental clinics. I appreciate the real-world perspective Dr. DeLapp offers and how he incorporates that into his teaching strategy. He is someone who has worn many hats: a coach, an owner of a private practice, a long-time educator and more. He has done research into the most effective ways to teach and learn, and weaves them into all his classes, which I find very effective. He also brings a ‘no excuses, just get it done’ attitude that reminds me of some of my coaches growing up, which I need and appreciate.”
“Dr. Singh has been an incredible mentor in helping me hone my professional development skills and outreach ideas. She is one of the most creative thinkers I have met when it comes to programming, presenting and various dental outlet opportunities. I first met Dr. Singh when she presented at an ASDA pre-dental day before I had been accepted, and I remember thinking that if I got into CU, she was someone I wanted to seek out.”
To have not one, but two mentors so early in his professional school career provides Jackson with an educational branch of a much-needed support system, and the fact that both are CU SDM alumni adds an unparalleled element of trust and connection.
The mentee becomes the mentor
Now in his second year at CU SDM, Jackson continues to work diligently towards his goal of becoming a dentist, while constantly finding ways to get involved and help others both on and off campus.
As an officer for the Student National Dental Association (SNDA) Colorado Chapter, Jackson assists in coordinating events, programs and resources focused on professional development for underrepresented and minority students. He recently attended the SNDA 50th Anniversary Celebration and Meeting in Orlando, FL, with classmates and faculty. CU’s SNDA Chapter won 3rd place for best large chapter nationally!
CU School of Dental Medicine faculty, staff and students at the SNDA National Convention, June 2022
Jackson also serves on the DDS Class of 2025 Executive Board and volunteers whenever there’s a chance to meet people and represent the school. In this first year alone, he spoke to students in the Undergraduate Pre-Health Program (UPP) during their visits to the dental school; participated in a high school educational outreach program with fellow students and program co-founders Milan Stokes, DDS ’25, and Austin Adams, DDS ’25; and he helped at the DDS Class of 2022 banquet and awards ceremony. Most recently, he spoke to incoming dental students at orientation about managing the transition into dental school.
Dental student volunteers at the DDS Class of 2022 Graduation Banquet and Awards Ceremony, May 2022
Jackson says he hopes “to make the world more beautiful, one smile at a time,” and he is well on his way.