Class of 2023
Growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland, fourth-year Doctorate of Dental Medicine student Jihan Aitelcadi was very close with her family. She saw her parents work hard to provide for her and her two younger brothers, which taught her the importance of providing care for those you love.
“I am appreciative of every single life experience my family and I have gone through together,” said Aitelcadi. “If it weren't for my family, I would not be where I am or who I am today.”
Aitelcadi’s childhood visits to her dentist—a Case Western Reserve alum—ignited her interest in dentistry.
“I wanted to become a compassionate, thorough and passionate dentist like my childhood dentist was with his patients,” she said.
In addition to dentistry, Aitelcadi also has a passion for art. She participated in many art shows and exhibitions growing up, where she showcased paintings, drawings and graphic designs.
“My artistic background not only enhanced my attention to detail,” said Aitelcadi, “but, combined with my skills in math and science, it enhanced my desire to integrate form, function and problem-solving—all which work together in the field of dentistry.”
After completing her undergraduate degree at John Carroll University, the School of Dental Medicine was an obvious next step for Aitelcadi.
“Choosing Case Western Reserve was a simple choice for me,” explained Aitelcadi. “Growing up, the dentists I looked up to had graduated from the School of Dental Medicine and spoke nothing but praises for the school, the professors and the curriculum.”
After graduation in May, Aitelcadi plans to continue providing holistic oral care to the Cleveland community through private practice.
Class of 2024
Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine’s ability to shape holistically minded dentists was central to Alyssa Cornejo’s decision when she began her dentistry journey.
“I worked with an oral surgeon who was a Case Western Reserve alum,” said Cornejo. “With his expansive knowledge, he was able to serve not only the dental needs of patients but also their general health concerns.”
This kind of multifaceted care—and developing meaningful relationships with the patients—is why the Class of 2024 DMD student chose dentistry as a career. And through her experiences at the dental school, Cornejo sees that she chose the right path and the right school.
“Case Western Reserve educators and staff focus so much on comprehensive care,” Cornejo said, “which has created generations of well-rounded dentists.”
Dentists are often the only medical provider a patient sees on a regular basis, and many people visit the same dentist for decades.
“These relationships give dentists a unique opportunity to really understand who their patient is—allowing us to meet their health goals or be the first to flag an unusual health change,” said Cornejo.
After graduation, Cornejo intends to practice general dentistry in a manner that focuses on patient education—not just treatment of present issues.
“My belief is that by focusing on both teaching and treating, patients will have more autonomy and control over their dental health,” Cornejo said. “This empowers them to actually achieve their dental health goals.”
Class of 2023
“I've seen my classmates provide outstanding patient care, which can help patients realize that the dental office can be a place for positive experiences—not anxiety.” — Kevin Dobbins
School of Dental Medicine fourth-year student Kevin Dobbins sees excellent patient care as a central focus of dentistry—and it’s what drew him to the profession in the first place.
“When I was in the eighth grade, [we were encouraged to complete] 100 hours of community service,” said Dobbins. “The first place I thought of was my pediatric dentist.”
Compelled by how his dentist interacted with patients, Dobbins watched her calm their fears, respectfully correct any misinformation surrounding their oral care and provide a peaceful environment for children.
“I witnessed patients who were just as afraid as I was when I first visited the dentist,” Dobbins explained. “My dentist provided adequate information to the parents without making a child scared—that stuck with me. From then on, I decided that I wanted to pursue dentistry.”
While attending a couple of pre-dental days at the School of Dental Medicine (SODM) during his undergraduate years, Dobbins had the chance to speak with some dental students about their experiences. Through those interactions, he knew that Case Western Reserve University would be a great fit for his dental education.
And, while it hasn’t always been easy, Dobbins has taken note of how his time at the SODM has shaped himself and his classmates.
“Dental school is a mentally tough four years, but one of the most gratifying things for me has been to see how everyone has grown over the years.”
After graduation, Dobbins plans to use his strong passion for treating children and pursue post-graduate training in pediatric dentistry.
Class of 2023
Even before her dental school career began, Gina DeLeonibus understood the power of dentistry to make a difference. For starters, her passion for volunteering and providing care to those who need it led her to TeamSmile, a Kansas City-based organization on a mission to connect oral health professionals with professional athletic organizations in order to provide life-changing dental care to underserved children in our communities.
“I’ve always enjoyed giving back to my community,” said DeLeonibus, a member of the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine Class of 2023. “When I came across a volunteer opportunity with TeamSmile, I was amazed by how dentists and specialists could take a timid child and have them smiling by the end of their dental visit. Through my volunteering, I looked forward to providing comprehensive care to patients who would then leave their appointment with a renewed sense of confidence.”
DeLeonibus was also exposed to dentistry—and to Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine, in particular—through her sister, Maria DeLeonibus (DEN ‘19), with whom Gina attended CWRU events and visited in the dental clinic.
So when it came time for DeLeonibus to choose a school to pursue her passion for dentistry, it was an easy decision.
“The sense of family, the smaller class sizes and the people drew me to CWRU,” DeLeonibus said. “Being from Cleveland, I felt right at home!”
Being close to home also served another purpose for DeLeonibus: Her grandmother, who has since passed, had end-stage renal disease, so DeLeonibus lived with and cared for her—getting her ready for early-morning dialysis treatments, then attending classes and performing clinic work, and caring for her grandmother’s needs in between studying.
“The routine was challenging at times,” she recalled, “but I was able to spend valuable time with my grandma while pursuing my dream of becoming a dentist.”
After completing her DMD, DeLeonibus plans to pursue craniofacial orthodontics and hopes to one day open a practice alongside her sister, an oral resident in Cincinnati, and her brother, a plastic surgery resident at Cleveland Clinic—the three of them teaming to provide the care DeLeonibus has long been drawn toward.
“I am fascinated by how orthodontics can take a person with dentofacial abnormalities and transform their lives by gaining form, function and aesthetics through orthodontic appliances,” DeLeonibus explained. “In this specialty, I would get to diagnose and treat complex cases, collaborate treatment with other specialty providers while obtaining a positive life-altering result for my patients.”
Class of 2023
“In watching my mentor—my father—I have witnessed first-hand the happiness that follows when passion meets purpose.”
School of Dental Medicine Class of 2023 student Gabriella “Bella” Koussa couldn’t pinpoint the one reason or moment when she chose to pursue dentistry, but her father, Nadeem Koussa (DEN ‘94) played a major role in her gravitating toward the field.
“Like many others, I have a mentor in my life who sparked my interest in dentistry,” said Koussa. “I am beyond blessed to say that my mentor is my father. He earned his dental degree in two countries, persevering while barely knowing English after immigrating to the United States.”
Cleveland native Koussa says that having that kind of model of determination has helped her get through dental school—along with having her family close by.
“I would not have made it to this point in my life without my family’s endless support and encouragement,” she explained. “To say that I am fortunate to go through dental school with my family nearby is an understatement!”
Having her family in the area wasn’t the only reason Koussa chose Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), however.
“The reputation of the university is unmatched,” she said. “It was not a difficult decision to make!”
Her patients are also happy that Koussa chose CWRU for her dental education.
Nick Hanson, Carlton Road residential community director in the university’s Office of Student Affairs, recently began receiving dental care from Koussa at the SODM dental clinic.
“I started working in student affairs at Case Western Reserve several months ago and needed a pretty significant amount of dental work done,” said Hanson. “I have pretty bad dental anxiety and Bella is so patient, understanding and reassuring throughout the process. She takes the time to thoroughly explain everything that is going on and is always happy to answer my questions. I actually look forward to going to the dentist now!”
After graduation, Koussa plans to continue serving the Greater Cleveland area by practicing alongside her father.
Class of 2023
Third-year dental student Jennifer Jung was born hearing impaired in her right ear, but it was not diagnosed until she was in the sixth grade. Her diagnosis, and the experience leading up to it, sparked her interest in treating a patient as a whole being. It deepened her understanding of those with differing abilities, and piqued her curiosity for how those individuals complete normal tasks on a day-to-day basis.
During her time as an undergraduate student, Jung studied American Sign Language (ASL) for three years. This education opened her eyes to just how important communication is, and how many different types of communication exist.
“Communication is very important to me,” said Jung, “and learning how each individual communicates is very important to good patient care.”
Seeing the world in a new way, Jung became interested in dentistry.
“Dentistry has an all around improvement in wellbeing for the whole individual. Yes, we deal with chewing, breathing, the health of the physical teeth but we also treat the emotional and mental health of a patient,” Jung said. “If you aren’t confident in your smile, chances are that you are not going to show confidence in other areas of your life.”
Though she is passionate about her studies, dental school has not been easy for Jung.
“It has been a humbling experience for me,” said Jung. “What you plan in life doesn’t necessarily happen. You have to learn to adapt.”
The challenges she has experienced during her time at Case Western Reserve University have given Jung opportunities for her to meet individuals and realize specific interests in the dental field she would not have discovered otherwise. These experiences led her to many research opportunities in Craniofacial Orthodontics, Oral and Maxillofacial Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, and Interprofessional Community Health.
Jung is active in several clubs and organizations, serving as the Co-President of the Orthodontics and Craniofacial Orthodontics Club, President of the Graduate Society of Medical Humanities, and is a part of the Graduate Student Council.
Her goal at the end of her studies at the School of Dental Medicine will be to continue her research efforts with the hope of specializing in Orthodontics.
“The holistic improvement is what draws me to that speciality and providing specialized care to those who need it,” she said.
Class of 2023
When one thinks of dental medicine, art is not usually the first thing that comes to mind. However, for Alexandra Yazdani, the artistry of dentistry is what continues to draw her to the profession.
“There is a lot of artistry in dentistry,” the now third-year student explained. “Dental medicine is aesthetic as well as scientific—it uses the right brain and the left brain.”
Yazdani grew up dancing competitively in all different styles: ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical and contemporary. She also enjoys practicing visual arts and loves to draw so it’s no surprise that she began studying a discipline where she could utilize her whole brain, a fusion of all her passions.
Dentistry is also a family affair for Yazdani.
“My father actually went to Case Western Reserve and graduated from the dental school.”
Back home in Toronto, she spent a lot of time at her father’s private practice watching him work with patients. His skill in working with people captivated her, further sparking her interest in becoming a dentist herself. For Yazdani, it all comes down to having empathy and connecting with the patient.
“The hardest thing for some people in dealing with patients is understanding that everyone is different. Not everyone has the same oral health literacy, and not everyone has the same financial status,” she said.
Yazdani shared that the great thing about the School of Dental Medicine (SODM) is how the students are prepared to treat the whole patient and not just their mouths. The school’s Dental Clinic provides students with real world patient experience, giving them the opportunity to interact with all different kinds of people from the community.
“Some people are very anxious and I have been able to develop a lot of patience and empathy for those who need to stop and take a break or who need a little more explanation about a procedure,” she said.
When she needs to decompress from the stress of studying or working with patients, Yazdani spends time with the friends she has made at the SODM.
“No one else understands what we go through—we are all in it together, and we really rely on each other. The people are what sets CWRU apart.”