Best In The Citi | Innovator: Dr. Laresea Woods

Dr. Laresea Woods, Best In The Citi Innovator for 2022
Laressa Woods’ mother used to say she lost her childhood always worrying and being concerned and trying to find solutions to every problem. 

“I was a very serious child,” Woods laughs, adding that she was also “extremely shy.” No one who knows Woods today would believe that the vibrant, bubbly, always-joking woman she is now started off as someone who rarely laughed. 

She grew up in Talladega, Alabama – “you know that whole, ‘if you’re not first, you’re last,’ Talladega Nights thing? Yeah. That’s where I grew up,” she says, adding with a laugh, “I’m a little competitive.” Her mother was a mathematician, and her father was a carpenter and an electrician. Woods herself says she’s “always been a science nerd” – in second grade, her class began learning about dinosaurs, but she wondered how it was that they knew anything about dinosaurs when none of them had ever seen any.

“That piqued my interest in being curious about the world,” she says. From there, she bounced around the sciences. In fourth grade, she looked up at the stars and wondered what was up there, beyond the sky. In sixth grade, she started doing science competitions, and a coach asked her to switch from astronomy to anatomy. She surprised herself, placing in the top-three in the whole region for her anatomy project, and that’s when she realized, “I may have an enhanced ability to grasp science,” she says. 

She started shadowing all of her doctors at the age of 15, trying to figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her dentist, she remembers, was fun. “His personality was different.

He seemed to be happy in life,” she says. “I wanted to be happy, and I’m also intrigued by helping different people figure out their problems.” 

The same seemed to be true of the oral surgeon who removed an extra tooth for her: He seemed to be full of personality, and to really enjoy the work he did. 

“If I felt like you didn’t like your job – or really love it, I thought that’s something I wouldn’t like either,” she says. When it was time for her to go to college, she almost had no choice but to go to an HBCU. 

“Out of the 11 siblings that my mother has, all of them went to an HBCU,” she says. “The girls went to Alabama State, and the boys mostly went to [Alabama] A&M. And they were all doing well in life. And the stories they had about being on the yard – everything about their life in college was like their highlight. Even though after graduating from college they’ve done well, they always go back to those college years as their best years.”

So Woods “put all my eggs in the basket of ASU,” and earned a presidential scholarship. She was a cheerleader and a member of the dance team. She pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha, and had the time of her life.

everybody isn’t a particular brand of Black

“I got to college, and I went from Laresea to Reesie. I learned it was ok to be Reesie, who loves to have fun. It was ok to be a dork, it was ok to be a nerd, it was ok to be serious at the same time,” she got to be her full self – and to learn what all that meant. And she learned more about diversity on a campus of people who all looked like her than she had in previous environments that were 60% or more white.

She got to see that “everybody isn’t a particular brand of Black,” she says – and she embraced all of her sides.

“It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” she says of her ASU experience. “The experience of learning different cultures of Black, and the experience of melting together and all helping each other – we were actually helping each other so all of us could shine,” she says.

Like her business partner, Dr. Charles Alston III, Woods had planned to go to Meharry Medical College, a historically Black medical school in Nashville. But the Lord – and University of Tennesee College of Dentistry associate dean of admissions Dr. Wisdom Coleman – had other plans. Dr. Coleman had been recruiting heavily at HBCUs, hoping to increase the number of Black students on his campus. And like Alston, Woods went with Coleman and UT.

She wanted a take a year off first, having done so many activities in college. Her mother wasn’t having it, and Woods ended up teaching math under her mom for a year while studying for the DAT and applying to dental school. Her students had the highest pass rate on the state exams in the county that year – her mother was second.

“I’ve always been a go-getter, always been motivated without anybody on the outside gassing me up or having to put a fire under me. I’ve always just been eyes forward, let’s go,” she says. She wanted her students to know that “things that are tedious and hard – if you turn it into something that’s fun then you can get through it.”

Now four years into her time in Austin, she tries to bring the same approach – perseverance, and success through fun. She loves acting out movie scenes with her four-year-old, Jayce (“sometimes I’m Moana, sometimes I’m the grandma,” she laughs, saying Jayce isn’t always totally satisfied with her acting skills.), and watching movies with Jayce and her husband James. 

And she’s excited about “the evolution of Austin” and being part of a movement to help make a city better, especially for people who look like her and her family.

“I’m glad I met that developer,” she says of the man who first introduced the idea of coming to Texas and building a dental practice to her and Alston. “Because Austin was not on my radar.” She’s excited to embrace all that the city has to offer, put down permanent roots, and explore all the opportunities the city has to offer  “for growth – not just business-wise, but life-wise.”

Dr. Woods’ practice is located in Pflugerville at 1620 Grand Ave Pkwy, Suite 130, and appointments can be booked online or by calling the office at 512-240-6512.

 

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