Student: Ijeoma Okons

Combining plenty of ambition with carefully measured doses of erudition and intuition, Ijeoma Okons has discovered the perfect formula that is bringing her dreams to fruition.

Okons, now a fourth-year student in the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine, began dental school before she even began classes — she was a 2021 Summer Research Scholar. The program allowed Okons to explore research under the guidance of faculty.

At the dawn of her dental school career, Okons hoped the experience would hone her problem-solving skills and build on her ability to pick up on concepts and techniques — allowing her to more readily absorb the large volume of new information through the school’s curriculum.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to get the lay of the land, but also to get integrated into the school,” Okons said. “It was definitely well worth it. I really like the aspect of being able to intertwine the research and practicality in clinical applications. The inner deeper knowledge is something I plan to integrate in my practice and during my career.”

Dental student Ijeoma Okons, left, and classmate Kala Gause present their research during the school’s Celebration of Research and Scholarship earlier this year. (Photo by Jon Jones)

Dental student Ijeoma Okons, left, and classmate Kala Gause present their research during the school’s Celebration of Research and Scholarship earlier this year. (Photo by Jon Jones)

These days, with a strong research background in dental materials and a handy grasp on classroom instruction, Okons is beginning her fourth-year rotations at the school’s statewide community service learning centers and the Ross Hall Service Learning Center.

Okons has practice in compassion under her belt as she begins her rigorous patient-care experiences. She is a Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Schweitzer Fellow and focused her service project on educating pregnant women on the importance of oral health care. She was able to pair her passion for patient care and research into that study that helped her give a voice to a patient population that’s often underrepresented.

“It’s very empowering,” she said. “I have so much passion for those things.”

The passion for health care came early for Okons.

While she knew she wanted to go into the medical field, she wasn’t sure what area to specialize in until high school, when she started taking a closer look at her options. A great experience at the dentist — Dr. Zita Baker in Fayetteville — cemented her decision.

“The way she interacted with her patients really brightened their day,” Okons said. “She made it seem like a fun experience, and she was spreading joy and making them better. I would love to have that impact on people.”

Okons also looks forward to educating patients on the systemic impact of dental health on overall health — a fact she feels is often overlooked and should be included in oral health care education in communities.

As Okons chose a dental school, her strong intuition played a major role in the decision.

“When I attended Impressions Day (an event that gives potential students a closer look at the ECU dental school), my intuition picked up on that it felt like a family,” she said.

That intuition has also led Okons through life, guiding her along with prayer and the lessons she learns from those who cross her path. Her inspiration comes from her parents, who came from Nigeria 30 years ago and provided Okons opportunities for reaching her dreams.

“I feel like the sacrifices they made, this is for them and for me,” she said. “I think because of that, I look for the best qualities of everyone I meet and learn from them and absorb as much as I can.”

Those traits will also serve as her motivating factors as she decides what’s next after dental school, whether it’s a residency or practice.

“Everyone has a path they’re supposed to be on,” she said. “What motivates me is wanting to genuinely be involved, wherever that leads me. I do love North Carolina; I think it’s the best of both worlds and I don’t see myself settling down anywhere else.”

What’s sure for now is that Okons wants to approach the clinical experiences during her fourth year by seeing patients as individuals.

“It’s really easy to hone in on the mouth, teeth, oral cavity — but viewing patients holistically is super important as well,” she said. “I want to treat them like family members, thinking about how I want the dentist to treat my family members, and that really changes the game a little bit. I always want to put my best foot forward.”

This Pirate is using her research experience to provide excellent and compassionate care for dental patients across the state.


Name: Ijeoma Okons

College: School of Dental Medicine

Major: DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine)

Age: 26

Classification/Year: Class of 2025

Hometown: Fayetteville

Hobbies/interests: Volleyball, taking care of my plants, playing the guitar

Clubs and Organizations: Prenatal Oral Health Program Club, Student National Dental Association, Multicultural and Diversity Club


Favorite hangout: Anywhere near a lake or ocean

Favorite place on campus: Health Science Student Center Gym

Favorite place to eat: Clean Juice

Favorite class: Implantology

Professor who influenced you the most: Dr. Maged Abdelaal

Favorite TV show: “Game of Thrones”

Favorite band/musician: It’s a tie between Davido and J.Cole

Favorite movie: “Interstellar”

Favorite app: Instagram


Dream job: Dentist

Role model: I’m inspired by so many people and learning from them helps me shape my own path.

Your words to live by: If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

What advice do you have for other students? Remember to cherish the journey as much as the destination. Take time to appreciate each step along the way, and don’t forget to enjoy the little moments. Life is about the experiences you gather along the path to your goals, so don’t rush through them. Take a moment to pause, reflect and enjoy the journey!

What is something cool about ECU that you wish you knew during your first year? That Shaquille O’Neal has been coming to ECU to perform at Doggie Jams for the past two years. What a great surprise!