Lyubov Slashcheva has an awfully long resume of accomplishments for a 21-year-old. Add to this her start in life—in a small mining town in a remote corner of the former Russian Empire.
Slashcheva emigrated from Kazakhstan to the United States with her family at age 5. She started kindergarten in Harrisonburg, Va., with no knowledge of English. Thanks to an English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) teacher, though, she got off to a good start.
“The ESL teacher engaged in my siblings’ and my lives well beyond the classroom,” Slashcheva says, “equipping us with the skills and motivation to succeed and excel in academics even as immigrant children.”
Ten years later Slashcheva was the valedictorian of her graduating class at Turner Ashby High School. At age 16? Yes, she had just finished her sophomore year, but she had acquired two years’ worth of credits by taking classes on the side at Blue Ridge Community College.
That fall of 2009 she planned to follow her older sister who had earned a nursing degree at Eastern Mennonite University. “Nursing seemed like an attainable goal for an immigrant child,” she says, “and I was fascinated with science and passionate about serving others.”
But two weeks before starting college, Slashcheva went to a dentist’s office with her father to interpret for him. Dr. Dave Kenee was impressed with her and challenged her to consider a career in dentistry. Within a few weeks, she was shadowing Kenee at his practice and had transitioned into a pre-dental major at EMU.
Slashcheva was in a hurry to get started in her life’s work. It took her only 2½ years to get through EMU, by taking summer classes and applying previous college credits from Blue Ridge. And she was already building her résumé. While at EMU she worked in the university’s Early Learning Center, volunteered at Harrisonburg-Rockingham Free Clinic, and traveled to Lithuania for three months as part of EMU’s cross-cultural program.
Slashcheva looked for a dental school that shared EMU’s emphasis on service. She won a competitive scholarship to dental school from the federal government’s National Health Service Corps, which pays her entire tuition bill as well as a monthly stipend. She chose Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
So how did Slashcheva spend her time between graduating from EMU in December 2011 and entering VCU in August 2012? Take a break and leisurely prepare for dental school? No, she went on a four-month mission trip under the Luke Society. She worked in dentistry and oral health in Honduras and Peru. “That developed my fascination for public health,” she says.
At age 19, Slashcheva entered the VCU School of Dentistry, plunging into her studies as well as student clubs and professional organizations. Her growing résumé now includes president of Inter Health Professionals Alliance for VCU and nearby Medical College of Virginia (now with over 300 student members), director of tEEEth talk Community Education Workshops, founder/president of Special Care Interest Group, student leader of Christian Medical and Dental Association, and graduate teaching assistant for undergraduate students who are about her age.
Some of Slashcheva’s professors question why she is so involved in service programs at a time when she should be focusing on her professional development as a dentist. “But I want to be a Christian who happens to be a dentist—and not the other way around,” she says. “I learned that at EMU.” She also learned to integrate faith and science.
What’s next for the future Slashcheva when she graduates from VCU in 2016? “As a National Health Service Corps dental scholar, I have committed to practicing dentistry in an underserved area for four years at the start of my career,” she says. The commitment can be deferred, however, if she wants to seek specialty training. At this point she is thinking about post-graduate study in dental public health and geriatric dentistry.
A long résumé is not Slashcheva’s goal. But she is determined to surpass boundaries that were considered insurmountable. And she is driven to pursue a life of service that comes from her Christian family upbringing in a disadvantaged immigrant community.
“Early in my immigrant life, I realized that I may never completely assimilate into my surroundings,” says Slashcheva. “So I found it necessary to choose between being inferior or being extraordinary among my peers.”
This article was published Jan. 20, 2014.