Biology Student Credits Experiences at IUPUI with Early Entry to Dental School

Neelam Shah | Undergraduate, Biology
School of Science at IUPUI

For much of the summer of 2012, junior biology student Neelam Shah lived with a secret—something she wanted to keep to herself in case things didn’t work out as she had hoped.

She had applied to the Indiana University (IU) School of Dentistry and viewed it as a long-shot attempt at early admission into the competitive program.

“My dream is to become a dentist,” she said. “I thought my application looked pretty good on paper even though I had only finished my sophomore year.”

Neelam ShahNeelam Shah takes at break from studies at the Women in Science House.

Only a handful of students in the history of the dental school have been accepted without an undergraduate degree, although a degree is not a requirement for entry.

Some of her close friends in the Women in Science House (WIS) knew she had applied, but she didn’t even share her plans with her family until she learned she would get an interview with admissions officers. By that time she was spending six hours a day preparing for the entry exam. 

“When I hadn’t received notice, I figured I didn’t get accepted,” said Shah. In fact, she almost chalked up the experience to nothing but good practice for her future application until she learned in late February that she had beaten the odds and been accepted into the dental school. Only 100 students from among 1,200 applicants were accepted for entry this year.

“I’m really excited about beginning my dental school classes, but I have to say the hardest thing is for me to leave all my friends at the Women in Science House. That was something I really asked myself: Would I regret missing out on my senior year?” she added.

Britt Reese, director of the WIS House, added: “Neelam is an amazing, strong female who will succeed in dental school and beyond. Her dedication to academics, the IUPUI community and civic engagement make her a model student in the School of Science.”

As some of her peers look forward to summer break, Shah will be a first-year dental student on July 1 and eventually will earn her D.D.S. Shah is also working with School of Science officials to apply some of her dental school coursework to the completion of the final 13 credits of her undergraduate biology degree.

Still surprised and excited by the news, the Kokomo native credits her real-world experiences at IUPUI with best preparing her to begin dental school. The day after her exam for dental school, Shah continued with a scheduled job-shadowing experience at her dentists’ office.

While at IUPUI she served in an internship, as part of the Life Health Sciences Internship program, with Dr. Angela Bruzzaniti, assistant professor at the IU School of Dentistry.

Her research in Bruzzaniti’s oral biology lab involved measuring the bones of mice to track the influence of a specific protein in growth. She noted the dexterity she learned while working in the lab as a key component that will be useful for her career in dentistry.

“The learning environment I found at IUPUI really was the best part of this entire experience for me,” Shah said. “I don’t think I would have been as happy as I was as a student without this network of support. The WISH girls have been there so often and done so much for me.”

Shah has served in leadership roles with the Pre-Dental Club, Chemistry Club and the Women in Science House Council.

When not studying or involved in club projects, Shah said she enjoys watching pro football and movies.