Zachary McComb did not grow up liking school. Learning had always been a struggle. After he graduated from Independent High School in 2008, he followed the crowd to Merced College. A good experience there, plus help with his learning disability, eventually gave him an AA in Human Sciences and an AS in Biological Sciences (2012). That led him to UC Merced and a BS in Biological Sciences (2014). By then his educational sky had cleared and McComb headed to Western University of Health Sciences to become a dentist. By 2019, McComb had finished his Doctor of Dental Medicine degree. While his career path looks like a straight line, it was more like a winding road. Here McComb talks about how that circuitous route made him a confident student and eventually a doctor.
Why did you decide to attend Merced College?
“I decided to attend Merced College to get my general education requirements fulfilled and to help determine future career opportunities. Merced College provided a convenient route to a great education!”
What was your career plan when you came to the College? Did you even have a plan?
“I really did not have a plan set in stone when I started at Merced College. Truthfully, I was not even sure if college was meant for me, but I was willing to give it a chance. At Merced College, my career plans evolved and changed the further I went. I developed a new found affection for science and knew I wanted to do something in that field. I think that came about when I was taking biology courses with Carl Estrella and Mireya Macias, and chemistry classes with Paul Fregene and Krista Wilson. They taught me, not just about science, but how to study anything really. They made it fun to learn and showed me that if you work hard you can do well. I didn’t have a great K-12 education. I was never interested in school. I wasn’t a great student. So when I came to Merced College, they inspired me to want to learn.”
Did your plans change once you graduated?
“Yes. I wanted to be a nurse at first because the College has a great nursing program. But I had a change of heart during the time I was caring for my great grandfather when he was in hospice. After I graduated, I was going to be a scientist until I realized I wasn’t attracted to laboratory work. At UC Merced, during my senior year, I had to choose between being a medical doctor or a dentist. Finally, I decided to be a dentist after weighing all the factors and realizing I saw myself contributing the most to my community as a dentist. Here in Merced County, most kids grow up and want to get out. I didn’t. Eventually I saw that this is a medically underserved population. I knew I wanted to come back. There are a lot of people lacking care and we can help. In fact, I’m able to do that right now. We do a couple of events every year, working with a local Buddhist group and elementary school, providing free dental services.”
What was your best non-academic moment at Merced College?
“My best non-academic moments came while building lifelong friendships. There are two of them. One friend I made at Merced College was Luis Mercado. We met in Professor Macias’ class. He’s now a physician’s assistant. Chris Clark is now a medical director. All three of us shared common interests. We’re all working in health care now. It’s kind of cool that we’re still friends.”
What was the biggest lesson you learned during your time here?
“Just proving to myself that I am worthy and can achieve everything I set my mind to. Merced College helped me learn how to be systematic about attacking goals, and to be prepared for life outside of school. I had no clue how to excel or be a good student when I first got here. I never asked for help. I never took an interest. One professor showed me how to make homework fun. I would go to the gym and take my slides and study for hours. I was doing two things at once. I developed a process. I have a learning disability so I had to learn how to study in a different way. If not for Merced College, I’d be in a lot of trouble right now. (Laughing.) Not everyone learns the same way, you have to find yourself.”
Finish this sentence: Without Merced College I wouldn't . . .
“ . . . have been able to gain the self-awareness I possess today. I would not be a Doctor of Dental Medicine without Merced College.”
I am going to put you in charge of producing a commercial pushing the College to incoming freshmen. What is your message?
“Aim for the stars and the moon. Set goals both academically and personally. Accomplish those goals, make new goals, be persistent, and repeat. Never settle and always keep improving for the better. Most importantly, enjoy the process and have some fun. It goes quick!”