If any person truly fits the definition of well-rounded, it’s Brittany Spivey.
Spivey, who earned an Associates of Science from Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) in May, has interests not only in STEM, but also in sports, the arts, and student government.
These pursuits are all part of her goal to become a dentist. As a child, Spivey realized she wanted to enter a field where she could use her hands to help others.
“As I pursued my different interests, I started realizing that I really loved science and I also really loved working with my hands,” Spivey said. “I really liked working with people and helping people, and I realized dentistry has all of those things. It’s definitely been my dream career from a very early age.”
In high school, Spivey took a dental careers class where she learned the basics of dental work. She later worked as a dental assistant for four months in 2015, using the skills she gained in high school.
“When I tell people that I love both science and art, there’s usually some confusion about how those relate, but there’s a lot of overlap,” Spivey said. “The reason I like dentistry in particular is because you need those fine motor skills. You have to be able to do really detailed, precise work.”
Spivey’s artistic ability also gives her an extra edge when applying for dental school.
“A lot of dental schools actually list on their website that they want students to do things that help their fine motor skills, like play piano or guitar, or make jewelry or ceramics,” Spivey said. “I do love the aesthetic and intellectual and emotional side of art, but I am doing it right now to build a portfolio for dental school.”
Dental schools also seek leadership ability, and Spivey has it in spades. At NOVA, Spivey rose from a senator to president of her campus’s student government in three years. She also ran cross-country on NOVA’s track team for two years.
“In high school, I never really saw myself as a leader,” Spivey said. “This year, I was president. It was an incredible year.”
As president, Spivey worked to get NOVA to officially recognize and charter its student government. This change ensured all governmental bodies across NOVA’s six campuses will follow the same constitution and share the same vision.
“Now that we’re following the same rules, and we’re official recognized by the school, we can focus on even bigger issues,” Spivey said.
Additionally, as a student representative to NOVA’s college board, Spivey was chosen to introduce Former Second Lady and NOVA English professor Dr. Jill Biden during the school’s 2016 commencement ceremony. Spivey said the experience helped solidify her confidence, preparing her for handling high-pressure situations in dentistry.
“I had actually a good amount of public speaking experience, but never anything on that level. After speaking in front of ten thousand people for the first time, I was definitely not the same person when I got off stage,” Spivey said. “It gave me a lot of confidence, and it also taught me that I have the ability to handle that intense, high pressure moving forward.”
Her multidisciplinary success allowed Spivey to stand out as an applicant. In the summer of 2016, Spivey worked as a National Institutes of Health (NIH) intern at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). Spivey applied twice to the highly competitive internship, only gaining entrance the second time.
“I didn’t just apply. I also went to the NIH Community College Day, where they talk about the specific internship for community college students. You sit in an auditorium and listen to presentations and panels all day,” Spivey said. “Every year that I went, I could see more people in the audience. I got very lucky with this internship because it’s definitely getting a lot more competitive by the year.”
Spivey worked in a lab at NIDCR, though some of the other NIH interns weren’t so lucky.
“I was really lucky because a lot of the fellow interns kind of ended up sitting in a library filling out excel spreadsheets. I was actually in the lab; they just threw me in there,” Spivey said. “Lab experience isn’t necessarily guaranteed.”
In the lab, Spivey researched the creation of enamel, the hardest tissue the human body produces.
“Enamel is really critical. Once it gets worn away by decay or physical wear and tear, it can’t be replaced in humans. Understanding how it’s created is a key step to regenerative technology later on,” Spivey said. “It’s significant because teeth are an exodermal part; understanding how teeth develop is helpful in understanding the exodermal development of other body parts.”
Spivey will study biology at Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall. She hopes to continue her love of helping people by volunteering in underprivileged areas at home and abroad.
“I’m pretty lucky in a lot of ways, and I come from a privileged background, but going to a community college made me realize just how lucky I am,” Spivey said.