JTC 24: Michigan Dentistry by Way of Ole Miss

Macey Ross balanced academic excellence with robust community involvement and research

A young lady in jeans stands on a sidewalk in a park.

This story is part of the 2024 Journey to Commencement series, which celebrates the pinnacle of the academic year by highlighting University of Mississippi students and their outstanding academic and personal journeys from college student to college graduate.

Macey Ross, who excelled at the Arkansas School of Math, Science and the Arts, didn't anticipate attending a Southeastern Conference school, nor did she expect to end her collegiate career heading to the top dental school in the world.

Ross, who hails from Jonesboro, Arkansas, entertained several prestigious offers, but choosing Ole Miss was a swift decision. The campus felt right, and she was drawn by a sense of belonging and the infectious energy of the faculty.

She committed after just one visit, cancelling the remainder of her college tours.


Macey Ross has spent many days over the past few years in the polymer science in Thomas Werfel's polymer science lab in the Thad Cochran Research Center. Submitted photo

The senior biomedical engineering major has enjoyed a college experience that was rich and engaging, marked by her freshman year involvement in an honors section of physics and an influential professor in her Honors 101 and 102 courses.

She wasn't deterred by the isolation that the pandemic brought; instead, she baked cookies and went door-to-door in her residence hall, forging friendships that would last throughout her college years.

Ross's commitment to community extended to her active participation in organizations such as the Associated Student Body, Engineering Student Body Council, Society of Women Engineers, Kappa Delta and a long list of others, where she enjoyed meeting other like-minded peers. Serving as an ambassador for the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College allowed her to share her love for the university with prospective students, getting to see many of those students later matriculate.

Simultaneously, she delved in the world of polymer science in the lab of Thomas Werfel, associate professor of biomedical engineering and biomolecular sciences. It was here, during her Research Experiences for Undergraduates, that she not only expanded her scientific acumen but also presented her work twice.

Ross thrived in the wet lab, working on researching polymeric micelles – tiny shell-like particles that can carry substances inside the body – for drug delivery applications.

While she found the research itself fascinating, the camaraderie and mentorship from postdoctoral students enriched her experience. In this space, she found a scientific community that encouraged her growth and stoked her passion for innovation.

While heavily involved in extracurricular activities and research, Ross also balanced a rigorous pre-dental academic workload, sustaining a perfect 4.0 GPA. Her scholarly achievements earned her a Taylor Medal, Phi Kappa Phi honors and a spot as class marshal for the School of Engineering.

And she worked hard for it, too – her Honors College peers voted her as the Night Owl, an honor bestowed on a student most likely to live in the Honors building.


Veronica Cunitz (left), Macey Ross and Cameron Hillman celebrate their induction into the Order of the Engineer at the University of Mississippi. Photo by Kayla VonBurg-King/School of Engineering

Ross's path to dentistry was not a straight line. She was torn between various routes: medicine or perhaps a doctorate. The decisive moment came during a shadowing experience where she witnessed the impact of dentistry. It wasn't just about oral health like she thought; it was about restoring confidence and joy.

She saw patients receiving dentures for the first time, the emotional release as they admired their new smiles and their excitement at sharing this transformation with loved ones.

"This was about enhancing someone's quality of life on multiple levels by simply giving them the ability to enjoy their favorite foods without hesitation or smile confidently," Ross said. That tipping point solidified her resolve: she wanted to be part of that life-changing process.

Her acceptance into the University of Michigan's prestigious dental school unfolded unexpectedly. She interviewed late in the cycle, thinking little of it until decision day approached.

Engrossed in an online game to calm her nerves, she didn't notice when her phone rang. When she saw the missed call was from Michigan, she hastily returned it, only to receive life-changing news. The voice on the other end made the offer: a substantial scholarship to attend the No. 1 dental school in the world.

"My jaw hit the floor," Ross said. "It was an out-of-body experience. I think I smiled for the rest of the week."

Her path from Arkansas to dental school wasn't the one she had planned, but it's one that she navigated with determination and an open heart. With her future at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry secured, Ross looks forward to the next chapter with confidence.

"High school me would be tickled to know that we made it," she said.

See more photos from Macey Ross' Journey to Commencement


Kayla VonBurg-King, School of Engineering



April 26, 2024


Macey Ross

Three young people wearing red Mississippi day T-shirts stand at a table outdoors.

Macey Ross (left), Victoria Amari and Matthew Mosset work the biomedical engineering table at the 2024 Mississippi Day event on April 13. Photo by Kayla VonBurg-King/School of Engineering

A young woman in a black dress stands in front of a research poster.

Macey Ross presents results of her work during her Research Experience for Undergraduates internship at the University of Mississippi in August 2022. Submitted photo

A young woman dances and waves a sheaf of papers in the air.

Macey Ross celebrates after successfully defending her thesis for the University of Mississippi's Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Submitted photo

Two young women embrace and show off medals hanging from their necks.

Macey Ross (right) celebrates with Elizabeth Johns after they both were awarded Taylor Medals, the highest academic honor presented by the university. Submitted photo

A young woman smiles and shows off an award certificate.

Macey Ross celebrates being inducted into Who's Who Among Students at the University of Mississippi on April 5, 2024. Submitted photo

A young woman wearing a stole with Greek letters poses for an outdoor portrait.

Macey Ross shows off her Kappa Delta sorority stole in one of her senior photos at the University of Mississippi. Submitted photo

A young woman sits on a concrete sign reading 'School of Dentistry Building.'

Macey Ross visits University of Michigan, where she plans to attend dental school, for the first time in February 2024. Submitted photo