Aspiring Dentist Valeri Altouma Plans Global Future
When Valeri Altouma was growing up in Syria, she already knew that she wanted to be a dentist.
Valeri also has an altruistic streak and enjoys travel, so she decided on a career path that would combine all three. “I’d like to become an oral surgeon and serve in global dental missions,” she said.
“I can travel to different countries and use my skills to help others.”
The Clifton resident, has steadily forged a path toward that goal, and graduates with her associate’s degree in biology with highest honors and impressive accomplishments to her name.
A member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society (PTK), Valeri became president of the PCCC chapter, Alpha Eta Chi, last spring. She is in PCCC’s Honors Program, completed a summer 2017 internship in dentistry, and was selected last March as a Bronze Scholar of the Coca-Cola Foundation 2019 All-USA Academic Team, an honor that comes with a $1,000 scholarship award.
During Commencement Week, Valeri received a prestigious Robert A. Shea Award, a scholarship award given to two graduating PCCC students who demonstrate academic achievement, leadership, and service to the College. Valeri also received the 2019 ELS Graduate Award.
Valeri will be continuing her education toward a bachelor’s degree at Rutgers University where she received a full scholarship.
A first-generation college student, Valeri spoke no English when she arrived in the U.S. with her parents in July 2015, just a few weeks after graduating from high school in Syria. She first enrolled at PCCC to take ESL (English-as-a-Second Language) classes. “As my English improved, I started taking college-level classes,” she said.
Four years later, she has served as a student speaker at the annual Scholarship Foundation Gala and for the PCCC Board of Trustees, talking about her experience at PCCC.
Recruited almost immediately to join the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) department, Valeri loved the atmosphere as she experienced robotics, microbiology, and workshops on DNA and bioscience. “I gained so much knowledge from STEM,” she said.
In 2017, STEM connected Valeri with the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP), which enables college students who aspire to healthcare careers experience their chosen field in a six-week internship at a participating university. Valerie attended Rutgers School of Dental Medicine in Newark. “It was fantastic,” she said. “I shadowed dentists as they treated patients, observed an oral surgery, and even took my first dental impressions on a mannequin. I really learned what a dentist’s day is like.” (See photos)
Valeri named PTK another significant influence on her personal and academic growth. “PTK shaped me to be the person I am today,” she said.
“As chapter president, I ran the weekly meetings and also had to be the face of the chapter at other events. It was very challenging, but also rewarding,” said Valeri, who was once uncomfortable with public speaking, but now feels confident before an audience. “If you don’t face your fears, you won’t grow, and PTK helped me to do that.”
Hosting PTK’s Middle States regional meeting last October at PCCC was a satisfying accomplishment for Valeri and her fellow chapter officers and an example of the team spirit she values at PTK. “We worked very hard to prepare and had been planning the event since the summer before. It was our first successful event as the new executive board,” she said.
While Valeri appreciates all that PCCC has done for her, she also stresses the importance of being pro-active about one’s education. “I maximized my PCCC experience,” she said. “I took advantage of every opportunity I could.”
With that in mind, she joined the Honors Program, prepared to take on the academic challenge. Valeri enrolled in honors-level Anatomy and Physiology classes. “I knew they would be hard, but I enjoyed exploring those subjects in depth,” she said. “We learned a lot about how to read and prepare a scientific paper. We even created mock experiments, which was really cool.”
This summer, Valeri heads to France on scholarship for an intensive program studying the microbiology and culture of cheese and wine through the Rutgers Study Abroad Program. “I love microbiology, and it will be great to go to France,” she said.
Admitting that she will miss PCCC, Valeri offers some words of wisdom for prospective students. “Take advantage of everything at PCCC. You will learn so much and be well-prepared for a four-year college.”
She added, “Don’t ever give up. Fight for what you love and for your dreams. Most important. Work very hard toward your aspirations.”