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“I know what


UWM pre-dental stud

Feature Stories

Pre-dental student overcomes hardships Professor studies Great Lakes stakeholders Community archaeology uncovers the past Professors write brief for Census court case Alum runs private autopsy company Students launch weather balloon Researchers collect gun violence stories Math researcher wins Guggenheim award UWM celebrates student research

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It’s all a little unbelievable. “Five years ago, if you had asked me if I would be where I am right now, if I had gotten into dental school, if I would have had the grades that I have, if I would have the confidence that I have, I would have laughed in your face and told you no,” she said.


Five years ago, Hayes-Birchler had just immigrated to the United States from Uganda with her son, Preston, and now-ex-husband, who is an American citizen. They lived in Madison, Wisconsin, where she worked as a certified nursing assistant. In 2015, difficulties in the marriage forced her to file for divorce, but before she could find a place to go, her ex-husband kicked her out of their home. Hayes-Birchler bounced between living in her car, a homeless shelter, and on friends’ couches.


Five years ago, she had a wild idea.

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Josephine Hayes-Birchler is about to graduate from UWMilwaukee with her bachelor’s degree. In the fall, she’ll attend Marquette Dental School. And in April, she officially became an American citizen.

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“While I was staying at the shelter, I started thinking about going back to school,” Hayes-Birchler admitted. “It was crazy. That shouldn’t have been my No. 1 focus – but I was thinking about going to school. So I applied to UWM.” As a newly-single mother with little income, HayesBirchler saw education as the way out of poverty for her and her son. She talked with College of Letters & Science student advisor Jennifer Hack, who helped her apply to the university and chart out her classes on the pre-dental track with a cell and molecular biology major.

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L&S Dean: Scott Gronert In Focus Editor: Deanna Alba

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2 • IN FOCUS • May, 2019

Josephine Hayes-Birchler shares a silly moment with her son, Preston. “I want him to have a good life,” she said. Photo courtesy of Josephine Hayes-Birchler.

Profile for University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

In Focus Vol. 9, No. 5