New dentistry program targets teens

The University program aims to nurture diversity in dentistry.

Incoming dentistry major Pheng Vang shakes hands with Health Care Opportunities program specialist Katherine R. Boyum after receiving his lab coat from School of Dentistry Dean Patrick Lloyd on Saturday in the Mayo Auditorium.

Image by Simon Guerra

Incoming dentistry major Pheng Vang shakes hands with Health Care Opportunities program specialist Katherine R. Boyum after receiving his lab coat from School of Dentistry Dean Patrick Lloyd on Saturday in the Mayo Auditorium.

by Kyle Potter

Their names were called, and the students paraded to the front of the auditorium one-by-one to slip on a crisp white lab coat and shake the deanâÄôs hand before heading back to their seats. Parents and teachers held their applause until the last name was called.
The kickoff for the Saturday Academy in Mayo Memorial Auditorium felt like a graduation ceremony, but it was almost the opposite âÄî the beginning of a brand new program that will introduce dentistry to high schoolers.
Twenty-eight underprivileged high school students from Minneapolis will visit the University of MinnesotaâÄôs School of Dentistry  22 times over the course of the next year.
Selected from a pool of 100 applicants, all 28 will be the first in their families to go to college. Some are first-generation high school students, and they come from varied ethnic backgrounds.
TheyâÄôll spend their mornings studying math and science or with guest speakers and the afternoons focusing on a potential career in dentistry âÄî in hopes of getting a leg up when the time comes to apply for dental school.
Among the new students is 16-year-old Khadijah Allen, a quiet but confident 11th grader from Augsburg Fairview Academy in Minneapolis.
âÄúI was always told that I had a steady hand and that I pay attention to details, so IâÄôm really interested in dentistry,âÄù she said.
Allen told Dr. Naty Lopez  of her aspirations when she worked with the school as an intern over the summer, months before the program was announced.
âÄúThis is a dream come true for her,âÄù said Lopez, the assistant dean for admissions and diversity and the programâÄôs director, at the opening ceremony. âÄúI can see her smiling right now.âÄù
The Saturday Academy is just one part of the dentistry schoolâÄôs new Building Bridges to a Career in Dentistry  program, made possible by a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The school was one of three nationwide to receive the grant.
The Building Bridges program also includes a summer dentistry course for current undergraduate students, a baccalaureate program for dental school applicants who didnâÄôt make the cut and a course to introduce incoming dentistry students to the curriculum.
Lopez calls it a âÄúpipelineâÄù to success for disadvantaged students. By offering these opportunities to students with financial, cultural or educational barriers, Lopez hopes to build a more diverse health care workforce.
âÄúThere is a huge disparity in delivery of health care in their communities,âÄù she said. âÄúPatients from their communities would rather go to someone who looks like them, speaks their language and understands their culture.âÄù
After almost two hours of speeches from Lopez, School of Dentistry Dean Dr. Patrick Lloyd  and others, the students stretched their legs with a tour of the school and its facilities.
A group of six students crowded around dentistry Professor Dr. Peter Berthold  and his next patient âÄî a realistic dummy with a full set of 32 teeth.
The students leaned in as Berthold explained the procedure before he began drilling. To his left, a monitor displayed his movements and tracked his performance.
âÄúDo you think I passed?âÄù he asked his trainees.
âÄúNo,âÄù one responded boldly.
With a score of 76 out of 100, Berthold did pass but just barely.
After his speech and helping his prospective students put on their new lab coats, Lloyd spoke in his office about the impact he hopes the new program will have.
âÄúThe biggest thing for me is that it lets these students âĦ and all the people that they associate with know that there are opportunities. Word will get out,âÄù he said.
Lloyd knows that not all of the students will end up in dentistry. Throughout the 22-week program, theyâÄôll be exposed to other health care fields.
If the students get into dental school, theyâÄôll graduate about 10 years from now. Lopez hopes those who do will return to their communities.
âÄúIf we donâÄôt provide [those communities] the health care they need, it will definitely affect all of us,âÄù she said.