Chemistry student accepted into nation’s top dental school

Roger Coda
Andrew Keith, in a Science Center laboratory.

Andrew Keith, in a Science Center laboratory

“What struck me most the first time I met him, as his advisor, was right off the bat he told me he wanted to be in medical school or go into dentistry, so his laser focus was on those goals.”

That was the indelible impression Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry Associate Professor Allan Jay Cardenas formed of Andrew Keith nearly four years ago.

Having that intensity never wavering at SUNY Fredonia rewarded the senior Chemistry major from Maine with a coveted acceptance letter from the highly rated University of Michigan School of Dentistry.

“I was super excited and thankful; that was my top choice to go to dental school,” Mr. Keith recalls. He’s enrolled in the four-year Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) program.

Andrew Keith, at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry
Andrew Keith, at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry.

The acceptance rate for the school’s Class of 2027 is a scant 6.6 percent – just 109 enrolled students out of 1,656 applicants. The average GPA is 3.81, the average Dental Application Test (DAT) score 22. Keith bettered the GPA with a 3.98 going into his final semester; his DAT score registered in the 80 to 90 percentiles, mirroring the class average.

Indeed, Keith could not have set an educational goal higher than the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. The ratings service QS lists the school No. 1 in both the U.S. and the world, based on academic reputation, employer reputation, citations per paper and H-index citation, or the measurement of the productivity and published work of a scholar or scientist. It’s also rated at the top in both categories by Scimago Institutions Rankings.

Laser focused on University of Michigan

Keith was fully committed to the Ann Arbor, MI, school from the very beginning.

“There are endless opportunities that the University of Michigan School of Dentistry offers, and that includes interprofessional opportunities with the medical school and school of business, which are also ranked high in the country,” Keith explained. “I love the opportunities and connection with alumni; I’m really looking forward to being a part of that strong alumni connection,” Keith added. “It also has an incredible reputation.”

Its many student organizations and Pathways program, which gives students latitude to explore their interests as well as various dental specialties, such as cosmetic dentistry, all piqued Keith’s interest. Students can select specific courses and opportunities to help them develop their identity as a dentist, he noted.

“When I received the interview invite in September [2023], a week later I drove to Ann Arbor and went to the campus and saw a football game. I loved the area, and was super excited that I got the phone call.”

What followed in early October were an interview that spanned two days and a tour of the school campus. “The facilities were gorgeous; the people that I met there were fantastic,” Keith remembered.

But school representatives weren’t the only people resonating with Keith. Even before the tour, Keith read about a first-year dental student featured on the school’s website who played junior hockey and college hockey before pursuing a career in dentistry at the highly selective school.

“I reached out to him and he really provided a unique student perspective to me. I also got to meet a group of his friends after the tour, and I really connected with him and saw myself fitting well in there.”

Keith also played, for three years, junior hockey, a stepping stone between high school and college play, and was actually recruited from his hometown of Cumberland Center, a small community of about 2,500 residents near Portland, ME, by Blue Devils Head Coach Jeff Meredith. Maine has just three NCAA Division III schools with ice hockey.

Dr. Cardenas really helped to guide me here at SUNY Fredonia, to learn in an efficient and professional manner. He helped me along my journey to dental school, for example, finding health professionals to shadow.” - Andrew Keith

“I felt Fredonia offered the best opportunity for me to follow my dream of playing hockey at a high level, as well as earn my Chemistry degree with just a fantastic chemistry department,” Keith said. “I lived my (hockey) dream for 2-1/2 years; I couldn’t really be any happier than where I am today,” he added. “I’m very happy Coach Meredith brought me here; I was able to play hockey but my education career always took priority.”

Very focused and determined are adjectives Dr. Cardenas, who’s known Keith since he arrived on campus, uses to describe him. “He’s a hard worker and has good time management, especially during his freshman year, juggling between being a varsity hockey player and still excelling in class.” Keith enrolled in high level chemistry courses, such as CHEM 412: Advanced Organic Chemistry, CHEM 316: Advanced Physical Chemistry, CHEM 462: Inorganic Chemistry and CHEM 496: Seminar: Advances in Chemistry.

Despite a busy and demanding academic schedule in his senior year, Keith is also serving as a tutor in the Learning Center.

Keith got an early start utilizing resources SUNY Fredonia offers to students planning to enroll in health professional schools after graduation by enrolling in BIOL 275: Health Professions Careers in the fall semester of his sophomore year. The course teaches students how to be successful throughout the application process to medical, dental or other health professional school and also identifies courses and experiences they'll need to have while at SUNY Fredonia in order to be successfully enrolled at these schools.

“Dr. Cardenas really helped to guide me here at SUNY Fredonia, to learn in an efficient and professional manner. He helped me along my journey to dental school,” Keith said, “for example, finding health professionals to shadow.”

Cardenas helped Keith navigate course selections, identifying specific courses needed to prepare for the DAT, for dental school itself and for his career as a dentist. Cardenas also set up several job shadowing experiences with medical doctors that ultimately affirmed Keith’s decision to focus on dentistry.

“None of (those medical job shadowing experiences) was a waste of time; it was very important in my journey. Just exploring differing opportunities, I found my way back to dentistry pretty quickly,” Keith said.

Through the Health Professions Advising program’s accepted student panel, Keith also connected with Kampbell Howard, a 2023 graduate who earned a B.S. in Mathematics and is a first-year student at the State University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine.

“We corresponded about two months; I texted him when I got in, kept him in the loop,” Keith said. “I’m definitely thankful that we had a student who had successfully gone through the same application process that I was going through.”

Alumni another resource tapped

Every spring semester, the Health Professions Advising program brings back to campus recent alumni and graduating seniors who will enter or are already enrolled in a health professional program to share thoughts about the application process and their respective programs with current students.

“What I’m really looking forward to this year is being part of the accepted student panel,” Keith remarked.

According to SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Ted Lee, Keith has been one of the top students in the Health Professions Advising Program for the last two years, describing him as very bright, motivated and organized. He’s also believed to be the first SUNY Fredonia student accepted to the University of Michigan School of Dentistry.

“When he started at Fredonia, he quickly sought out advice from me and he was a regular visitor. He always had ideas and plans, but he realized the importance of getting other opinions and feedback; this will be very beneficial to him in dental school and as a dentist,” Dr Lee, longtime director of the Health Professions Advising Program currently on sabbatical leave in Honduras, said of Keith.

“What stands out about Andrew are his intellect and willingness to get feedback; he is very thoughtful and intentional,” Lee said.

Keith credits Lee as having been a profound influence throughout his education at SUNY Fredonia. “I have the utmost respect for his educated input and valued the many, many conversations we had about my future and career path. He always made time for me when I needed it and truly cares for his students.”

Along with gaining ample feedback in the Health Professions Careers course, students also develop a timeline for success that lists courses they’ll need for graduate school as well as study materials and resources to prepare for, in Keith’s case, the DAT, which he described as a “pretty huge part” of the school application process.

Keith also found Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Michael Milligan, who teaches CHEM 317: Analytical Chemistry, Quantitative Analysis and CHEM 328: Analytical Chemistry Lab, to be very approachable. “Just walking by his office door, and seeing it always open, I’d pop in and talk about the hockey game,” he said. “His course definitely helped me understand material on the DAT.”

One of the best resources for career and graduate school information are academic advisers, according to Cardenas. “Students should follow Andrew’s example of maximizing the benefits of advising as well as have good relationships and rapport with professors.”

In all likelihood, Keith was destined to become a dentist, and the resources he utilized at SUNY Fredonia helped him take a huge step in that direction.

His mother, Deanna, is a dentist and, as a youngster, Keith remembers passing out toothbrushes instead of candy at Halloween and watching the children’s series “Timmy the Tooth.” Those little things, when seen through the eyes of a child, “were pretty cool.”

In addition to medical job shadowing arranged by Cardenas, Keith compiled six shadowing experiences with dentists – totaling more than 200 hours – that included his mother. Four were with general dentists, two were with oral surgeons and one, an endodontist.

Keith also gained very early hands-on experience a year ago by assisting his mother, learning to make mouth guards and impressions for three cousins – ages 12, 14 and 16 – for soccer. “We always joked that they were my first patients.”

“What really started my passion for dentistry was when I was learning alongside my mom.”

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