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OSU-OKC Project SOAR Today, Dentist in the Near Future

OSU-OKC Project SOAR student Justin Forest pictured during the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP) offered at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City (OSU-OKC) student Justin Forest has his mind made up: after graduating with his associate degree in applied technology, he plans on taking the next steps toward becoming a dentist. Forest realized this goal after gaining the confidence he was lacking through the university’s Project SOAR Program.

Project SOAR

Project SOAR provides a supportive environment for qualifying students who are seeking assistance in meeting their unique academic, personal, career and social needs.

Forest, a second-year Project SOAR student, attributes SOAR Director Deborah Morgan and former SOAR Counselor Mashaela Stripling with instilling in him the confidence he needed to keep moving forward to achieve more.

“Project SOAR has truly been a blessing for my education,” Forest says. “Coming out of high school, I lacked a lot of confidence in myself and ran away from wanting to work in the medical field.”

Morgan is thrilled to see Forest embracing his career goals and taking charge of his future.

“Justin is a shining star in Project SOAR and the perfect example of what can be accomplished when students use the program and its resources to their advantage,” Morgan said. “He is destined for greatness and we are honored to be part of his success.”

To prepare for a career in dentistry, Forest is starting now. He spent six weeks this summer expanding his skills through the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP). The program, offered at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), is a summer enrichment and residential program for college students interested in health professions.

When Forest heard about SHPEP, he saw it as a great chance to gain more dentistry knowledge and experience. He was able to sit through informative lectures and panels, polish his personal statement for applying to medical/dental school, and conduct hands-on procedures such as tooth-coloring and making dentures.

View of OSU-OKC Project SOAR student, Justin Forest“Justin has been a tremendous asset to our program,” said LaKaija Johnson, SHPEP program manager. “On behalf of the entire SHPEP Team at UNMC, we would like to wish Justin continued success as he returns to OSU-OKC. We are committed to supporting him as he continues his journey to becoming a dentist!”

After graduating from OSU-OKC, Forest is weighing his options between Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska universities. Regardless of where he ends up, he plans “to graduate from an established dental school and be left one of two options: open my own practice or do two years of residency to gain more public health practice.”

Forest is currently focusing on his studies and remains thankful for OSU-OKC’s Project SOAR. “SOAR has helped me in more ways than one,” he says. “The staff and fellow students are great people and I’m proud to be a part of this program and to be here at OSU-OKC.”

To find out more about OSU-OKC’s Project SOAR Program, visit

What is Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP)?

SHPEP is a national program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with direction and technical assistance provided by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the American Dental Education Association (ADEA). Additional information about the program can be found at

Mission: The Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP) is a free summer enrichment program focused on improving access to information and resources for college students interested in health professions. SHPEP’s goal is to strengthen the academic proficiency and career development of students underrepresented in health professions and prepare them for a successful application and matriculation to health professions schools. These students include, but are not limited to, individuals who identify as African American/Black, American Indian and Alaska Native and Hispanic/Latino, and who are from communities of socioeconomic and educational disadvantage. SHPEP, formerly known as the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP), expanded in 2016 to include a broader array of health professions.