From: Au Gres
High school: Au Gres-Sims
Future: volunteerism, dental school
Ask Ashli Maser about her passions, and she will respond at first with a wide, white smile.
That smile is more than simply the Saginaw Valley State University graduating senior’s reaction to the question — it’s also the answer to it. Or at least one of the answers. After all, the Au Gres native has a number of interests that inspire her.
Among those interests are, quite literally, smiles. Ever since an orthodontist removed the braces she wore as a teenager, Maser’s career goal has been to work in a profession that deals with improving the human smile — and giving those humans more reason to smile.
“Getting braces in the eighth grade really set it off for me,” Maser said. “Dentistry and your smile affects so many things, including confidence. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to help other people in that way.”
Early on, she set her sights on becoming a dentist. Later, she thought orthodontistry might prove a better fit. Now she hopes to become an oral surgeon, a career with work ranging from scheduled wisdom tooth extraction to emergency oral reconstructive surgery following an accident.
Maser’s latest step toward her career goal is nearly complete, although she has plenty of studying and work left to do. Schooling for oral surgery, after all, is a 10-year commitment: six years of studying and four years in a residency.
Still, the biochemistry major has taken major steps toward achieving that goal. Recently, she scored high on her dental admission test — an achievement that will help her earn admission to dental school.
Another major milestone will arrive in May 2016 when she receives a bachelor’s degree from SVSU. Maser credits her university experiences with providing the essential tools, resources and experiences to help her become an oral surgeon. The institution also has provided inspiration and a platform.
For instance, Maser takes to heart SVSU’s role as both a community engaged institution as well as an advocate for promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies among K-12 students. At least on a weekly basis, Maser visits K-12 classrooms — as near as Bay County and as far north as Iosco County — promoting STEM.
“My focus is figuring out how to engage middle school students in STEM through hands-on curriculum,” she said.
That “hands-on” advocacy has included demonstrating engineering by building towers out of newsprint, to showcasing chemistry by blowing up pumpkins. Maser, a member of SVSU’s Honors Program, titled her Honors thesis “STEM Outreach in Rural Michigan Areas.”
“What brought me to SVSU was its good science program,” she said. “To give back by telling other students how much fun STEM can be has been very rewarding. It’s fun to spark their curiosity and hear what they have to say.”
Maser’s dedication to promoting higher education causes extends beyond STEM.
The first-generation college student, before her own graduation, established a scholarship supporting college-bound students from her alma mater, Au Gres-Sims High School. Maser funded the scholarship in part using tips she collected while working as a waitress between classes. My AM Dream Scholarships — the “AM” a play on words that represents both her initials and “America” — supported two students in 2014 and three students in 2015, she said.
“I’m a first-generation college student, still debt free,” she said. “If I can do that, anyone can.”
Maser also has worked with state legislators in an effort to beef up the number of guidance counselors in K-12 schools. In 2015, she spoke to members of the Michigan House of Representatives about the cause. Maser said more counselors are needed to guide youths toward successful lives after high school.
Maser’s community engagement is illuminated in part by her presence as a regional spokesperson and local celebrity. This summer, Maser will compete for the crown of Miss Michigan for the third consecutive year. She placed in the top 10 for the 34-person pageant in 2014 and 2015. She will compete this year by virtue of her role as Miss Bay County.
The winner of Miss Michigan will, in turn, compete for Miss America, a program that is one of the world’s largest providers of scholarships for women. Her chase for both crowns means Maser likely won’t attend school again until June 2017. Miss America pageant winners are not allowed to attend school while they hold the title so that they can pursue their platform interests.
Regardless of whether Maser receives either crown, she plans to spend the following year volunteering for the passion that’s captured her attention since her braces were removed. She expects to volunteer for Operation Smile, a nonprofit that helps provide safe oral surgery for children born with cleft palette.
“One thing my family has always encouraged is, whatever you are going to be in life, be a good one,” Maser said. “That’s what I’m trying to be."