Ngone Seck | St. Louis Public Radio

Ngone Seck

Ngone Seck studies for her Korean language class at her dorm room on Washington University's campus.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

When Ngone Seck graduated as Riverview Gardens’ valedictorian in May — the first in her family bound for college — it seemed nothing could slow her down.

A few weeks later, the Italian immigrant with West African roots began her classes at Washington University on a full scholarship.

But long-simmering and costly dental problems threaten the trajectory of the musically talented engineering major from Florissant. She lives with pain while working full time to pay for her dental care, and her grades are suffering.