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Dental school dean Patrick J. Ferillo visits with the Faculty of Dentistry at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
Dental school dean Patrick J. Ferillo visits with the Faculty of Dentistry at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

I recently had the opportunity to represent our school during a fascinating trip to Thailand. The trip gave me several chances to meet with representatives of the dental community from around the world.

At the 9th World Congress on Preventive Dentistry, held in Phuket, Thailand, I gave a presentation on “Global Actions to Improve Oral Health from the Dental Education Perspective.” The International Association for Dental Research, the main host, organized the event with the World Health Organization, FDI World Dental federation and the International Federation for Dental Educators and Associations. (Read an overview of the event, which happens every four years)

While I was in the country, I had the pleasure to meet with the Faculty of Dentistry at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok (whom you can see in the photo). Following a presentation I gave, we had a fruitful discussion about current issues and challenges in dental education.

All of us who are in education have some similar issues. The dental curriculum constantly needs to be refined. We need to create effective learning environments that are different from years past, based on the unique ways in which students learn today. There is a strong need to develop faculty and commit resources to faculty training. All dental schools face these challenges, and by exchanging information with our colleagues around the world, we can learn from each other and move our schools ahead.

Our school is fortunate to have a long history of leadership within the field of dental education. I always enjoy sharing some of the secrets of our success, and also learning what is working at schools in other countries. Despite all of the digital communication technology at our fingertips, nothing ever takes the place of seeing another colleague, school or country up close and in person.

I left Thailand with two extraordinary impressions. The first was the Chulalongkorn University faculty’s dedication for excellence and the desire to be on the cutting edge of dentistry within Thailand. My second impression is of the warmth and friendliness of not only the people at the dental school, but all the people of Thailand. Their openness and willingness to help, always with a smile, is a model that we should all live by. I hope in the future I will have the opportunity to once again visit the people of Thailand — or that my hosts will visit us so that we can extend the same sort of hospitality that they extended to me.

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Our school’s Associated Student Body (ASB) is an extraordinary group of people who work very hard for the student body and the entire school. Leadership is one of our school’s values and we deeply appreciate the involvement of these students. I am very proud that our student leaders recently gave up one of their weekends to enhance their leadership skills.

I had a chance to sit in on some of the discussions that students were having as part of their leadership training. During the presentations, Dr. Karl Haden, from the Academy for Academic Leadership, talked about the significance of vision. To illustrate his points, he showed a film clip of Martin Luther King Jr.’s great speech “I Have a Dream.”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbUtL_0vAJk]

During the weekend, I began to contemplate not only King’s remarkable speech, but everything else that went on in the 1960s. For those of us who were growing up in that period, it was a frightening time in many ways.

We had — and lost — three leaders who had great vision: Martin Luther King, President John Kennedy, and Senator Robert Kennedy. All three of them were tragically assassinated within a short span of years, denied the chance to see their visions fulfilled.

We also had a very unpopular war in Vietnam going on during that same period of time which ultimately drew in many young adults. For our students currently here at the Dugoni School of Dentistry, they have no idea what the draft meant. I can remember the evening we sat and watched the lottery. Depending on which number was selected for our birth date to determine our fate whether we could stay in college and universities, or we would have to go off and fight this unfavorable war.

Lyndon Johnson meeting with civil rights leaders.jpg  President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young and James Farmer on January 18, 1964.
Lyndon Johnson meeting with civil rights leaders.jpg President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young and James Farmer on January 18, 1964. (Source: Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Image Serial Number: W425-21)

President Lyndon Johnson, while he did much for civil rights and for programs that enhanced the population (such as Medicare), got bogged down in a war which most Americans no longer saw as justified. That led to a period of massive anti-war demonstrations, as well as fiery civil rights protests. Those of us who were around during that period of time will never be able to forget the burning of Watts and Detroit and other great cities. And how could one forget the massive demonstrations and violence that broke out at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago?

To top it all off, late in the decade, we elected a new president, only to see him leave his office in shame a few years later, when threatened with impeachment for criminal acts in the Watergate scandal.

It is important to remember those times, to remember the tumultuous period when we wondered if the United States of America would survive as a nation. In the end, the will of the people and the desire to move forward kept us alive and brought us out of that terrifying era to a period of stability, an expansion of civil rights, and a reconsideration of the decisions that had condemned so many young people to war. The draft ultimately was ended. The country was able to move on.

Returning to where I began: this weekend’s leadership activities brought my mind to reflect on those three great gentlemen and visionaries we lost in the 1960s. Part of their vision has been achieved. Even though oppression still exists, we also see greater equality than ever before.

I would imagine that Martin Luther King, Jr. would say today that part of his dream was achieved when our country elected its first African-American president.

Robert Kennedy fought hard to help people in need. Today, we continue to fight that battle and continue to help those underserved who are living in poverty with poor education and a lack of services the more fortunate among us sometimes take for granted.

And at least one of President Kennedy’s dreams -- to bring luster to the United States of America and establish it as a world power in the face of the Soviet Union -- certainly came true.

While we are experiencing difficult financial times today, I have faith in the American people that we will come out of this tumultuous period just as we did after the 1960s.

A cioppino feast for incoming dental school students
A cioppino feast for incoming dental school students

Each July, our first-year students get a special treat from a group of our distinguished alumni. At the end of a very busy first week of classes, the students are invited to a cioppino dinner in the Café Cagnone on the 2nd floor to eat, socialize and relax.

In case you haven’t heard of it (or unlike me, haven’t spent much time with a big Italian family), cioppino is a fish stew derived from the various regional fish soups and stews of Italian cuisine.

A group of alumni have been organizing this event for many years. Their work starts early in the morning when they go to the fish market to choose their ingredients, and continues as they spend the day preparing the cioppino feast. This year, they gathered to cook at Gaspare Pizza, a restaurant owned by Gaspare and Robin Indelicato, who are the parents of one of our students. After a day of camaraderie, cooking and eating, the group then comes to the school to serve the cioppino to more than 160 incoming students in the DDS and IDS programs.
This wonderful event is an incredible example of the passion for Pacific and the friendships that are developed during the time our students spend here. This group of alums has been together as friends since they day they started school. I expect that the incoming class will begin to form similar ties.

In order to help build those relationships, first-year students also travel to the University of the Pacific’s main campus in Stockton during their second week for a class retreat. They spend two days together interacting in scheduled and unscheduled activities such as bowling and playing sponge dodge ball. Between the cioppino dinner and the first-year retreat, we hope that students get to know one another and forge bonds that will last throughout their dental school experience. It’s likely they’ll even make some friends for a lifetime.

Dr. Dudley Cheu
Dr. Dudley Cheu

On Sunday, July 12, I attended a touching event in honor of an extraordinary person. It was a celebration of Dr. Dudley Cheu’s life. Dr. Cheu, who had been teaching at our school since 1994, was an assistant professor in the Department of Restorative Dentistry. It was a very sad event due to his early passing and my heart goes out to his family and friends.

I learned a great deal about Dr. Cheu’s life at the ceremony. I knew him at campus from his smiling face; incredibly positive attitude; compassion and desire to help our students; and the fact that he always got things done around the school. He was always commendable and supportive when interacting with our students. And the students clearly felt just as positive about him. A year ago, for example, students honored him at an awards dinner as an outstanding faculty member.

With his passing, we should all contemplate what lessons we can learn from his positive approach to life. As I watched more than 300 people gather to commemorate his life and listen to his friends talk about him, I learned what an extraordinary role model he was for us all, including myself.

Dr. Cheu clearly knew how to balance his life. His family, including his wife Genevieve, two sons Jason and Derek, and grandchildren were important parts of his life. He loved his profession and his patients, and at the same time had the opportunity to enjoy many other aspects of life. He was well travelled, enjoyed great food and fantastic wines. We should all remember his approach as an example to live by – a person who knew how to balance his priorities and do it well. He embraced life and enjoyed it to the fullest. He will be missed by all, but never forgotten.