November 03, 2023
BY VICKI MAYK
When Alexa Sicher ’14 entered dental school after graduating from Kutztown University, she didn’t know she’d be making history. But that’s what happened in 2018 when she graduated fourth in her class, where women outnumbered men for the first time in the history of the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine.
Sicher, who practices at Messersmith, Keller & Sicher Family Dentistry in Kutztown, set her sights on a STEM career from an early age.
“I’ve wanted to be a dentist since kindergarten,” she says. “Ever since I got my teeth cleaned for the first time, I just loved going to the dentist. When we had to write on a piece of paper what you want to be when you grow up, the answer was always ‘dentist.’ It’s funny that it came full circle.”
Sicher grew up just outside Kutztown. When she chose a college, she looked at several schools while considering the best preparation for dental school, and the Pre-Medical, Pre-Veterinary, Pre-Dental track had recently been introduced within KU’s biology major, affirming her final choice. The track, now called Pre-Medical and Other Health Careers, includes classes in subjects such as histology and anatomy. She minored in biochemistry.
“I found that in dental school, those specific classes really set me apart from my classmates,” Sicher says. “It made quite a big difference once I got to dental school.”
I like the aspect of it that allows me to create an artistic masterpiece in people's mouths. You realize that doing one small thing just changed a person's entire outlook on their confidence and appearance.-Alexa Sicher '14
She praised the biology department’s small class sizes and mentoring. “Because the ratio of faculty to students is so low, they can give one-on-one attention to every student,” she says, noting the guidance she received from her advisor, Dr. Matthew Stone, associate professor, biological sciences.
Sicher says Dr. Anne Zayaitz, retired provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, was a mentor and role model for being a woman in a STEM field. At the time, Zayaitz was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and is also a biologist.
“I actually met her at the STEM open house when I was applying to KU,” Sicher says.
The meeting led to an invitation to work in the dean’s office, where Sicher planned the STEM open houses held twice a year. Sicher’s other extracurricular activities included the Biology Club and being a health ambassador, which involved promoting wellness activities to students.
While at KU, she completed a required externship that provided more preparation for dental school. She shadowed Dr. William Messersmith in the practice where she now works. He asked her to continue working part-time during the school year and summers as a sterilization assistant, helping to set up examination rooms and sterilizing instruments.
That experience and her excellent academic record led to her acceptance to four dental schools. She chose the University of Pittsburgh for its reputation and a program that allowed her to do rotations in specialties such as endodontics, prosthodontics and a clinic working with special needs patients. She earned induction into Omicron Kappa Upsilon National Dental Honor Society, reserved for the top 12 percent of graduates, and the Northeastern Society of Periodontists Award.
A mission trip providing dental care in the Dominican Republic during her training inspired her to continue giving back after graduation. Today, she regularly does presentations about oral hygiene in Mennonite schools.
Sicher says her education has served her well in a general practice where she does root canals and extractions as well as more routine care. As a top student in dental school, she was encouraged to pursue a specialty, but prefers the day-to-day interaction with patients in general practice.
“I’m a people person,” she says.
She sees dentistry as an art form, allowing her to combine a lifelong artistic bent with scientific training.
“I like the aspect of it that allows me to create an artistic masterpiece in people’s mouths. You realize that doing one small thing just changed a person’s entire outlook on their confidence and appearance.”
Alexa Sicher is a 2014 graduate of Kutztown's Biology/Pre-Med program.
This article originally appeared in the 2023 Tower Magazine.