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Updated 10:00 AM Sept. 18, 2006




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School of Dentistry launches honors program for scholars

When he became dean of the School of Dentistry three years ago, Dr. Peter Polverini said one of his goals was to develop an honors program for a select group of highly motivated students. The program now is a reality.
Dental student Ben Anderson helps Erica Scheller reach the top of a 13-foot wall at the U-M Recreation Area on Dixboro Road. Students get ready to cushion Scheller in the event she slips on the way up. Teamwork was the focus of several outdoor activities for the dental scholars. (Photo by Keary Campbell)

A two-day event in August marked the start of the U-M Scholars Program in Dental Leadership (UM-SPDL). A select number of exceptional students are brought together in the program that seeks to help them develop a leadership mind-set and the skills to leverage their expertise, not just in dentistry, but in education, research, business, politics or law, to name a few.

"The program does not replace our current dental curriculum; it complements it," says Dr. Russell Taichman, a professor of dentistry who developed the program with help from faculty and students.

Taichman says the dental scholars program also will include a customized capstone experience in which teams of students come together to address problems in research, policy, practice or education. The experience may include working with colleagues at other University schools and colleges, including business administration, kinesiology, psychology, public health and others.

The inaugural class includes 18 predoctoral students and two dental hygiene students. Four are members of the class of 2008, six from the class of 2009, and 10 from the class of 2010.

During a kickoff dinner Aug. 25, students had an opportunity to meet one another and several dental school faculty members who will serve as mentors.

In remarks to the students, Polverini lauded them for their initiative and being selected for the program.

"You're pioneers in a new program and you will become leaders," he said. "Five to 10 years after you graduate, I hope to see some of you on television being interviewed for your expertise in oral health care. Others, I hope, will play major roles advising lawmakers at state and national levels on issues of research, care for the needy and other topics that affect society and those of us in the oral health care profession."

Dr. Richard Valachovic, executive director of the American Dental Education Association and the International Federation of Dental Education Associations, praised the students for their initiative as well.

"You have to be willing to go out on a limb and take risks, and you're demonstrating just that with your decision to be a part of this new and exciting program," Valachovic said.

Oral health care is part of the globalization trend that has affected other professions and industries, he added. "More significant changes will be coming, and as leaders you must be prepared."

Valachovic said there's growing awareness of the vital role oral health care has in overall health.

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