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While most students don’t begin to think about a career path until high school, Ellie Meyer started much earlier. The oldest of five siblings (she has four younger brothers), she developed an interest in dentistry by observing her father at his dental practice in suburban Chicago.

“As a young kid, I would run around his office and open every drawer,” said Meyer, 22. “My dad is so passionate about the dental field and his passion was truly contagious.”

In high school, Meyer shadowed her dad and other dentists in the area, and worked in her dad’s dental office one summer.

A recent University of St. Thomas graduate, the biology major’s goals have not wavered. Meyer just started her first year at the Marquette University School of Dentistry, where she will focus on antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance — when bacteria no longer respond to antibiotics — is a growing problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 2 million people in the United States become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.

“It’s an issue that all health care fields face,” said Meyer. “There are a lot of ways bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics. One way to deal with this, according to the CDC, is responsible prescribing of antibiotics.”

One of Meyer’s undergraduate research projects was a study of the presence of antibiotic resistant genes in Minnesota lakes and rivers. During spring break in 2017, she volunteered at a dental clinic in Nicaragua.

“I am hypersensitive to how I can help stop its spread,” she said, “and do my part as an informed health care provider.”

Meyer was an Academic All-America team member — graduating with a 3.95 cumulative GPA — but her college experience wasn’t limited to academics. She was an All-America in volleyball, three-time all-conference selection and nominated by the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s (MIAC) for NCAA Woman of the Year.

“Ellie has always demonstrated a kind heart,” said St. Thomas volleyball coach Thanh Pham. “She’s been a fierce competitor on the court and in the classroom. Her no-nonsense approach and compassion for her teammates helped Ellie leave her mark on our program.”

During her sophomore year, Meyer began volunteering at Hope Dental Clinic, a nonprofit offering free basic dental care and education to low-income patients.

“My experience at the clinic showed me how important access to dental care was. I learned also that dental education was important,” she said, noting the importance of teaching preventive care.

At the same time, Meyer volunteered for Brightside Produce, a Minneapolis nonprofit working to eliminate food deserts.

While some might not see a link between the two organizations, Meyer sees a clear connection.

“My mind-set on social injustices changed from complacency to compassion,” Meyer said. “I gained an important awareness of the connection between food insecurity and oral health.”

Meyer chose St. Thomas after visiting a friend who was a member of the St. Thomas volleyball team. She also was inspired by one of her teammates — Whitney Lloyd, who helped her on and off the volleyball court.

“Outside of volleyball, I looked up to Whit because I knew that she was an amazing biochemistry and premedical student,” said Meyer. “She helped me find my direction in terms of what major to pursue, what research opportunities I could seek out, how to plan out my class schedule, and how to manage the application process to a professional program. She inspired me to be confident in my abilities as a woman in science and a future doctor.”

Lloyd, who was the MIAC’s nomination for NCAA Woman of the Year in 2018, said she is not surprised by Meyer’s success academically and athletically.

“Ellie Meyer is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met,” said Lloyd, who is beginning her third year of medical school at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

“Her work ethic, determination, positivity and enthusiasm exudes from her and brings up the play and energy from everyone around her. I feel very grateful volleyball brought us together and to have found a wonderful teammate and friend.”

That teammate is ready for new challenges.

“When I worked in my dad’s office,” Meyer said, “I found all of the procedures so interesting and I loved watching patients leave the office happy and healthy.”

Dentistry, she said, will allow her to apply her interests in biology and chemistry “in a hands-on and engaging setting. I also love being a caretaker and providing for others’ needs. All of these aspects have led me to believe that dentistry is the perfect career for me.”

Joel Rippel • 612-673-4719