Thursday, October 2, 2014

New Accolade for the Dental School

By Helene Ragovin

William J. Gies Award recognizes leadership in teaching, research, community service and diversity

scene from Tufts dental school

Students at work in the pre-clinical simulation lab, which was created during the expansion of the School of Dental Medicine. Photo: Alonso Nichols

When Tufts School of Dental Medicine completed its ambitious expansion project in November 2009, adding five stories of teaching and research space atop its Kneeland Street building, it marked—both figuratively and literally—the crowning achievement of a transformative phase in the school’s history.

During the past several decades, the dental school not only elevated its physical presence, but has made strides in research, curriculum, diversity, faculty recruitment and development, community service and leadership within the profession. Those achievements haven’t gone unnoticed: the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) Gies Foundation has given the school its 2011 William J. Gies Award for Outstanding Achievement by an Academic Dental Institution.

“In a whole variety of areas, Tufts School of Dental Medicine has shown significant achievement, and this award was sent to honor those areas of achievement,” says Richard Valachovic, ADEA executive director and president of the ADEA Gies Foundation.

The award is named for the pioneering dental educator William J. Gies (pronounced “guys”). Representatives from the dental school will receive the award March 14 during ADEA’s annual meeting in San Diego.

ADEA, based in Washington, D.C., represents all U.S. and Canadian dental schools, many allied and postdoctoral education programs and numerous corporations working in the dental field.

“I am so very pleased that the school is receiving the Gies award,” says Dean Lonnie H. Norris, DG80. “This recognition reflects on the dedicated teamwork of administrators, faculty, staff and students, with the support of alumni, in elevating educational standards and enhancing patient-care services. President Lawrence S. Bacow has been exceptional in the support of the Dental School by fostering mutual respect and collaboration across the university.”

“In bestowing this award, now the rest of the world knows what those of us at Tufts have always known: what a great place the School of Dental Medicine is,” says Bacow. “Our dental school is a true gem. In fact, for many people in New England, and indeed throughout the world, when they think of Tufts University, they think of our dental school. It’s a place where we educate wonderful practitioners who go out into the world to practice their craft; it’s a place where we do important research in oral health. And it’s a place where we provide clinical care to generations of people who have grown up in and around Boston.”

The dental school, Bacow adds, “has been blessed with fabulous leadership. Our dean, Lonnie Norris, has clearly helped raise the school to new heights.”

Research and Diversity

Indeed, in honoring the dental school, ADEA is also honoring the tenure of Norris, who became dean in 1996 and is retiring at the end of this summer.

“Although the award goes to the institution, it clearly recognizes the dynamic and substantial leadership of Lonnie Norris in identifying these areas of achievement to focus on,” says Valachovic, an overseer to the dental school. “It’s not just about the bricks and mortar, but about the research monies that have come in, the innovations in which dental education is delivered to the dental students, the residents and the other post-docs, all the incredible things that have happened during his tenure and under his leadership.”

Shortly after Norris became dean, the school took on the goal of promoting a more vigorous research enterprise. That goal has been accomplished in many ways; notably, in 2003, the school received a one-year grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) to develop a sustainable research program. Since then, it has received nearly $6 million annually in sponsored research from federal, corporate and other sources and recruited funded researchers to the faculty.

A Dean’s Research Scholarship, an honors scholarship awarded to five incoming students interested in basic science, was established five years ago. The scholars receive a merit award and mentoring from a faculty member while they work on a research project. Tufts faculty have played a leadership role in the creation of a Consortium for Oral Health-Related Informatics (COHRI) that coordinates clinical data from 20 dental schools for future research on treatment outcomes.

Improving the school’s diversity has also been one of Norris’ major goals. Tufts is now among the top 10 dental schools in the country in the number of African-American and Hispanic/Latino students enrolled, according to comparative enrollment figures from ADEA. The school has also taken an active role in support of GLBT applicants and enrolled students. GLBT applicants can reach out to GLBT students on campus through a section of the school’s website; there is also an active student organization on campus that provides social support.

In keeping with the university’s commitment to active citizenship, expanding the dental school’s community outreach efforts has been a priority. In 2006, the Department of Public Health and Community Service was established, following a $5 million gift from Delta Dental Plan of Massachusetts that endowed a faculty chair in community service and public health and provided support for electronic patient records at eight off-site clinical facilities.

Tufts was also the first dental school in the country to offer off-site dental externships for students, and it now offers such programs at 26 sites throughout the country, including veterans’ hospitals, migrant worker health clinics, Native American reservations, correctional facilities, military bases and rural and urban community health centers. Dental students have also provided services to victims of domestic violence and the special-needs population, and participated in Boston’s Step Up program, which brings oral-health services to students in the city’s low-income public schools.

“The realization of this vision, and significant enhancement to the school’s operating environment, would not have been possible without Dean Norris’ tireless emphasis on finding a way to expand the school’s capacity to do even more than was done in the past,” says Mark Gonthier, associate dean for admissions and student affairs at the School of Dental Medicine.  “The Gies award is a huge recognition of this,” Gonthier adds. “The students here care deeply about the school. Dean Norris is a leader who has communicated that engagement and that pride.”

Helene Ragovin can be reached at helene.ragovin@tufts.edu.

Posted March 08, 2011