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Class of 2017: Chemistry Major Seized Opportunity From Hardship

Published April 25, 2017 in News

By: Fariss Samarrai | University Communications

The first time David Dent flew on a plane was when he came to the University of Virginia from his hometown of Las Vegas for “Days on the Lawn,” an introduction to the University for newly accepted students.

When he arrived in Charlottesville, there was snow on the ground – the first he had seen. He admits that, at the time, he barely knew where Virginia was. But he got a good vibe on Grounds, even if everything was so different from where he came from, and realized immediately that he was excited to come to UVA.

Some might say Dent was disadvantaged as a triplet raised by a single mother on a low income. But that’s not what Dent would say. He has taken advantage of every good opportunity that has come his way, and every opportunity he has made for himself.

One opportunity that he grabbed hold of was the QuestBridge scholarship that brought him to the University without having to worry about finances. Dent is turning that into a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, and he will walk the Lawn to receive it in May.

“I had not ever even heard of QuestBridge until my sister Sara happened to bring home a brochure about the program one day,” Dent said. “It sounded too good to be true – that recipients would receive full four-year scholarships covering all expenses – but I applied anyway. It changed my life.”

While in high school, Dent worked part-time as a bagger at a supermarket. His mother had lost a well-paying job and was struggling to make ends meet; Dent began giving his paycheck to his mom to keep the family going.

“She was working odd jobs to pay the bills and keep food on the table,” Dent said. “She never said I should help out. She didn’t want me to have to help. But I said, ‘No, Mom, you’ve done so much for us. It’s the least I can do.’ I was happy to do my part. She had always put her four kids first, and I wanted to do the same for her.”

The family got through, little by little, a process of hanging tough for long enough.

“I worked hard for this, and I want others to know there are opportunities for hard-working people who don’t have socioeconomic advantages. It’s not a handout; it’s an opportunity. I’ve had an awesome experience.” – David Dent, May degree candidate

Dent’s mother made sure her kids stayed in school, despite the hardships, and she emphasized that they must study hard to better their lives. Dent took it to heart. He had always liked science, and he did well in all of his classes. With good grades and great financial need, he earned his scholarship.

UVA is one of several institutions that partner in the QuestBridge program, which connects the nation’s brightest students from low-income backgrounds with leading institutions of higher education that provide scholarships. Dent said he had to adjust to UVA’s culture, which includes many students who are financially well off.

“UVA is definitely a different environment from Las Vegas and where I went to high school,” he said. “But I came here focused on succeeding, and it helped that I didn’t have to hold down a job while in school. The scholarship gave me my own economic power and connected me with other QuestBridge Scholars at the University with similar economic backgrounds, including my housemate, which has helped me make the transition. It has allowed me to connect with people here with similar interests and enjoy everything Virginia has to offer.”

Dent loves the outdoors, and that he can “experience all four seasons” at Virginia’s latitudes and altitudes.

A serious skateboarder since age 10, he and his “older” triplet brother (by two minutes), Kenneth, and his eldest brother, Daniel, once considered opening a skateboard shop and designing their own boards. Dent’s love for the sport has continued, and he takes breaks from school by skating often at a Charlottesville park.

And he has transitioned to snowboarding, something he had not done prior to coming to Virginia. He’s spent a lot of winter weekends on the slopes at Wintergreen and elsewhere being a member of UVA’s Virginia Alpine Ski and Snowboard Team since his first year.

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