Mosaic Stories

    Romana Muller

    It’s hard to catch up with Romana Muller, because she is always on the go. Whether it is being an adjunct professor at A.T. Still University’s Missouri School of Dentistry and Oral Health, conducting her graduate research, being a Mosaic Ambassador, belonging to various professional associations or being a mom to her son and daughter; Romana puts her best efforts into everything that she does.

     “My dad always said ‘if you do something, do it right.’ I have always lived by that rule and strived to exceed expectations. I am lucky that I have a wonderful and supportive husband and children who understand my work ethic and what I want to accomplish in life. My family’s support has meant so much, especially over the past three years as I work towards completing my graduate degree. My kids know that when mom can’t go out and play, it is because she has to work on her thesis into late hours of the night.”

     Although there is much to say about what Romana is working on presently, past events in her life have led to this moment of her success. Romana is from the Czech Republic. When she was 11, she and her family escaped the communist regime in Czechoslovakia and spent some time in a refugee camp in Vienna, Austria. After a year of living in Austria as political refugees, her family was able to relocate to Canada and begin their new life. As exciting as that was, the move brought on many challenges that come with starting a life in a new country. For her, it was frightening to go to school, because she had missed out on a year of education in Austria and didn’t know any English.

     “I remember going to school the first day and people were talking to me, but I had no idea what they were saying.”

     At first she struggled, not knowing any English, but with some help along the way, she quickly picked up the language. Her homeroom teacher, whom she remembers with gratitude, made an extra effort to have the other students help Romana with the language. She was a quick learner and halfway through the year, she was speaking broken English. As her English improved she was able to excel in school and was on her way to a long academic career.

     Unfortunately, after living in Canada for five years, her family had to return to the still communist, Czechoslovakia. After arriving back home, they lived in a small one -bedroom apartment with her grandmother. Due to her parent’s past, Romana could not pursue the education she dreamed of. Representatives of the communist party have set her path for her and her options were limited to training in livestock farming or electrical equipment sales. This was far away from her dreams of attending a University and she very quickly realized that her future did not seem very promising in Czechoslovakia.

    Just when she started losing hope, her mother’s persistent efforts paid off. Eager to fight for the future of her daughter, she visited the regional department of education every day. Eventually, she was able to get an appointment with the district’s minister of education and told him about how talented Romana was. She didn’t give up until she persuaded him to make a call that gave Romana an opportunity to get into a better college.

     “He told my mother that if I passed the entrance exams, they’d take a chance and accept me. I studied really, really hard, was able to pass the tests and get into that school. It was not easy, since I missed out on five years of Czech education during my stay in Canada ”

     After having that experience, Romana’s appreciation for education grew deep. During her senior year in college, she found herself as one of the leaders in her school’s student movement during the Velvet Revolution of 1989. As history was written, the countrywide movement led to the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia. Following her graduation, Romana and her husband had the opportunity to come to the U.S. on a training visa. After three years of living in St. Louis, they applied for a diversity visa lottery. By then, their training visa expired and they had to return to Czech Republic. Little did they know that less than a year later, they were going to be chosen in the lottery and be eligible for permanent residency in the U.S. They moved to St. Louis and have resided in the area for the last 22 years.

     When she first moved to St. Louis, she took some courses with the intention of getting a degree in dental hygiene. She received her associate's, but continued to work towards a bachelor's and now a master’s degree. She did all of this while working and taking care of her children. She strongly believes in the value of education and lifelong learning. 

     “Everything I’ve accomplished in my life thus far, I owe to my persistence and hard work, something that I learned from my parents. I always set goals for myself, and am a visionary. No matter how impossible something may seem, no matter how many barriers are placed in your way, there is always hope if you keep pursuing your goals. This strategy has always paid off.”

     Her research for her master’s thesis is on the topic of oral health literacy of refugees and the effects of an oral health education program on the dental practices and oral health perceptions in a refugee population. According to her, the results of the study could be groundbreaking and result in improved oral health literacy, better dental and general health, and improved access to dental care through higher utilization of preventive and restorative services.

     Romana is having a profound impact on the immigrant and refugee population in St. Louis, not only through her research, but also as a Mosaic Ambassador. She has found that one of her favorite things about living in St. Louis and being active in her community is that she is able to interact with such a diverse group of people.

     “I love St. Louis because of our diversity. There are so many ethnic and cultural groups and that’s what makes our city unique. Everyone who comes here wants to work hard to build a new life and contribute to the growth of our community. I’m just so excited that I am able to connect with these individuals through Mosaic and my current work.”

     Romana continues to work on her thesis and will be receiving her master’s of science in dental hygiene degree in May of 2016. Her research won’t stop there, as she wants to continue developing community outreach programs, along with her work in dental education and public health. She hopes to give back to the immigrant and refugee community. After having been a refugee and immigrant herself, she understands the challenges that these individuals face. She wants to make a difference by helping bridge the gap between the community and access to dental care. As an important component of general health, good oral health will allow the refugees and immigrants to thrive in the life that they are creating.

     When looking back at her experiences Romana can offer advice for immigrants and refugees who are working towards being successful in their endeavors.

     “All I can say is to persevere and keep going. Just take it one step at a time and work really hard. It will take a lot of sacrifice and dedication. You will have to put in more than a 100% effort, but in the end, it’s going to pay off and you are going to get to where you want to be.”