Undergraduate Programs

My Journey From Biomolecular Science Major to Practicing Dentist

A headshot of Janel Smith
A man and women holding and hugging two small children
My husband, Shawn and I, and our two boys, Owen, 6, and Liam, 4.

Hello, readers. My name is Janel Smith, and I graduated from Clarkson University in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in biomolecular science. Today, I am a General Dentist with Sandstone Family Dentistry, in Clarkson’s hometown of Potsdam, New York. This is also where I met my husband Shawn, a SUNY Potsdam graduate, in my freshman year of 1999, and where we raise our two boys, Owen (6) and Liam (4). 

I specifically love orthodontics and in 2011 was able to add that as one of Sandstone Family Dentistry’s services. On a daily basis I provide direct patient care, including hygiene exams, fillings, implants, partials/dentures, endodontics and orthodontics, among other services. I also help manage the dental team and some aspects of the business.

I wanted to share my story and journey from biomolecular science undergraduate student to practicing dentist, so that current and future college students can understand this potential pathway for a career as a dentist, or even other healthcare professions.

A person in a shield mask
Here I am in all my gear – new COVID protocol for Personal Protective Equipment (N95 mask, level 3 mask, loupes, helmet/shield, gowns and gloves).

As a North Country native, I had plans to attend Clarkson University from a young age. Attending soccer camps and hockey games as I was growing up, I fell in love with the campus and small town charm. In high school I became very aware of Clarkson’s reputation for success and nationally recognized academic programs. When I visited the campus and met some of the faculty and staff, I was very impressed. I was treated as a colleague from the very beginning, in a very welcoming and relaxed atmosphere. 

I chose dentistry as a career because, as silly as it sounds, a high school aptitude test said dentistry would be a good fit for me – health care and art were my strengths. I explored some other options like physical therapy and teaching, but ultimately dentistry was always the winner.

So at Clarkson, I was initially a Biology major. However, during my first year, the Biomolecular Science program started, and I switched majors immediately. Knowing I wanted a career in healthcare, this was such a perfect blend of Biology and Chemistry – an excellent foundation for dental school.

The Biomolecular Science program ended up being the perfect choice for me based on my goals of a career in healthcare, and it gave me excellent preparation for continuing my education beyond my undergraduate degree. 

The most important preparation for any kind of healthcare is getting hands-on experience. Job shadowing and real life experience are aspects that Clarkson stresses and this is certainly crucial in determining one’s career path. I jumped right in, getting as much experience as possible.

A person leaning over a dental chair working on a child who is laying down
Me checking my son Owen’s teeth at his first appointment

Prior to my freshman year, I signed up for job study and was immediately hired as a summer temp in the Human Resources department. This created a network for me within the University before I even started classes. As an undergraduate I went on to complete an internship at ALCOA in their Chemistry Lab, became a student assistant to Dr. Phil Christiansen and Karry Rusello in the Biomolecular Science department, and served as a Chemistry teaching assistant for Dr. Jim Peploski, cementing great friendships with many faculty and staff that I still enjoy today. 

Serving as a teaching assistant for freshman chemistry was definitely one of my favorite Clarkson experiences. After completing the course, I was able to help teach the lab and even a few guest lectures. Late night grading sessions and exam planning will always be a special memory for me. This was also a paid position, so I was learning and working at the same time. Participating in Open Houses with prospective students and families was also a fun experience, it was always exciting to show guests what our program had to offer.

Most importantly, I participated in research in the Biology department and used this experience as the basis for my Honors thesis. My initial faculty advisors, Dr. George Gilchrist and Dr. Karen Aguirre introduced me to my mentor and colleague, Dr. Stacey Howlett, whom I started job shadowing in 1999 while an undergraduate and continue to work with to this day. 

Two women standing outside holding a placard
Stacey Howlett, DDS and Janel Smith, DDS of Sandstone Family Dentistry receiving the Potsdam Chamber of Commerce Award for Business of the Year in 2018

When it came time to start applying to dental schools, I used the Pre-Health advising staff frequently and relied heavily on my advisors and professors. I was actually able to apply and get accepted to the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine Early Assurance program during my sophomore year at Clarkson. This guaranteed me a spot in the UB Dental Class starting in 2003 as long as I completed my program and shadowing hours. This was a huge stress relief allowing me to focus more on my core academics instead of time consuming and extensive application processes.

When I entered Dental School, I was really well prepared and felt I had a more thorough education than most of my peers who had attended big city schools. The intimate education available at Clarkson allows for lots of one-on-one instruction and you are treated as a colleague and peer, not just a name and number. Some of the first and second year dental classes, like Biomaterials and Biochemistry, were more thoroughly covered during my time at Clarkson than they were in dental school – with professors and assistants that were readily available.

Clarkson is an outstanding school. I would highly recommend the Biomolecular Science program to anyone considering a career in medicine, or any other health related field, and feel confident saying it will put them in an excellent position for continuing their education. All of my Biomolecular Science classmates have gone on to do amazing things – from medicine to research to teaching, and everything in between.

A women with two small children
My youngest son Liam’s first dentist appointment.

An education from Clarkson University will guarantee you a successful career, and most importantly, you will continue to network through the connections and friendships that you make along the way. I remember my time at Clarkson as a time of personal growth and maturity and I am forever grateful for the excellent start I received at Clarkson to a career that I love.

Not everyone loves the Dentist, but I feel like caring and compassion were instilled in me during my education and this approach is carried over to my work as a dentist, making people feel like they are at home, just like Clarkson did for me.

Also, before I finish (I can’t help it) – don’t forget to floss!


  1. Excellent article! Janel was one of the students that you never forget and that is way, today I call her my friend! So proud to have been a supporting part of Janel’s education.

  2. I worked closely with Janel when she started as a summer temp in Human Resources. I could tell from the beginning she was an exceptional woman. Her work was always top-notch and she was always very meticulous in every job she did. When she mentioned she wanted to be a dentist, I knew she would be an excellent one. I told her I wanted to be one of her patients. So when she came back to the area, I was pleased she was working with Stacey Howlett as Stacey was my dentist. Plus Janel has a warm and genuine personality that pulls you in and makes you comfortable. I am so proud to call her one of my friends and my dentist!

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