Dental diversity

Teaming up with Tougaloo

Like many dental schools across the nation, Tufts School of Dental Medicine is committed to increasing the number of students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. That effort has received a big boost through a formal combined-degree program the dental school has established with Tougaloo College, the distinguished historically black college in Jackson, Miss.

charley cheney

Charley Cheney, D04 © Vito Aluia

How this new relationship evolved is also noteworthy. Charley Cheney, D04, a graduate of Tougaloo College, has been active in recruitment and retention efforts for minority students since he arrived at Tufts and saw an opportunity to create something that would benefit both institutions.

“When I came in as a first-year, this was kind of like my project,” Cheney says about initiating the Tougaloo agreement. Cheney contacted his academic dean at Tougaloo, who then spoke with Mark Gonthier, associate dean for admissions and student affairs at the dental school. Gonthier and Cheney subsequently traveled to Mississippi to meet with Tougaloo faculty and students.

The agreement enables Tougaloo sophomores with academically strong records to apply for early acceptance to the pre-doctoral D.M.D. program at Tufts. Not only does early acceptance reduce the stress for Tougaloo students applying to dental schools, but it gives these students the chance to pursue more varied course work in their remaining undergraduate years.

And what it gives Tufts is just as critical. “It means we will have a more secure pipeline of African-American students—a pipeline that is very small anyway,” observes Gonthier. He notes that the dental school seeks more agreements like this one, and that other dental and professional schools in the Northeast are also setting up these types of affiliations. In fact, some agreements have been in place for years: Tufts School of Medicine has had a 30-year relationship with Tougaloo College.

To ease the transition from living in the South to negotiating a major Northeast city, the dental school will provide “early immersion experiences.” Students will attend college in Boston the summer after their junior year at Tougaloo and will live in the Tufts dorm in downtown Boston. Each student will be paired with a dorm advisor and receive assistance and mentoring through the dental school’s admissions and student affairs offices. In addition, a Tufts dental student who is a member of the Student National Dental Association will be matched with each student.

Cheney notes that Tougaloo students who come to Boston need to understand certain things about the Northeast, including that “it actually gets cold.” Undoubtedly the South is known for its friendliness and hospitality—traits not always found in northeastern cities like Boston. But Cheney is philosophical about the geographical and cultural differences: “There’s enough support here, and you realize everyone is in the same boat.”

After serving in the U.S. Army, Cheney plans on returning to Mississippi to practice and teach. In the meantime, he has been experiencing the diversity of Boston by visiting various neighborhoods and has even mastered driving in the city—something many longtime residents never accomplish.