For the 35 incoming members of the Advanced Standing Program for International Dentists class of 2020 proceeding through their White Coat Ceremony on Friday, the ceremony was symbolic of beginning a career in dentistry in the United States.
Despite growing up in an oppressive environment and being raised by a single mother in Tehran, Iran, Melika Haghighi is entering as a new student at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.
ASPID is a two-year long program for dentists trained in other countries to receive their Doctor of Dental Surgery degree, which is required to practice in the United States. Haghighi is one of the 35 members of the incoming class of students hailing from nine different countries, ranging from Ukraine to South Korea.
Haghighi was elected by her peers as the class president of ASPID student body for Ostrow’s Associated Student Body and will be serving alongside Vice President Nirav Patel. Both will represent the student body and communicate between the class and Ostrow faculty. As the class president, Haghighi envisions a positive future of the class by promoting teamwork.
“In just the few months that our ASPID Class of 2020 has been studying at Ostrow, Melika has emerged as a natural leader,” Dean of Ostrow Avishai Sadan wrote in a statement to the Daily Trojan. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the adversity she has experienced in her past has helped forge her into the strong, determined young woman we see today.”
Haghighi explained how growing up in a divorced family caused those in her community to view her as less likely to succeed. This motivated her to rise above what others in the community thought of her, hoping to honor her mother for the many sacrifices that were made while raising her.
“If you are a child of divorce, you’re doomed to failure. You are expected to fail,” Haghighi said. “I wanted to, more than anything, write my own story and also prove [myself to] who ever doubted me.”
After graduating as high school valedictorian, Haghighi was encouraged to pursue dentistry. She attended Ajman University of Science and Technology and graduated at the top of her class in 2015. After being exposed to the dentistry, Haghighi discovered her passion for dentistry. According to Haghighi, dentistry gave her the opportunity to connect with other students and professionals within the community.
“When I came [to USC], I started volunteering and getting involved with everything that USC does in Mobile Clinic and [JWCH],” Haghighi said. “I saw it in person what they were doing here and the amazing things that they do.”
Throughout her academic career, Haghighi aspires to engage with community service and outreach programs in addition to gaining clinical experience at Ostrow. Once she graduates, Haghighi intends to enter the field of oral maxillofacial surgery.
“She is a testament to the power of not letting your circumstances define you,” Sadan said. “I have total confidence in her to lead the ASPID Class of 2020.”