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Students collect donations during a break at school.
Students collect donations during a break at school.

The impact of our dental school on people in our community reaches far beyond our school's walls and the dental clinics here on campus. I wanted to highlight a few special activities taking place this holiday season, since many of our students are volunteering above and beyond their typical dental school schedule.

On Wednesday, Dec. 9, students and faculty members will provide dental services for people in need during Project Homeless Connect at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. For over two years, students have taken an active role in organizing the dental services that are part of this event held several times a year. At each event, more then 1,000 community volunteers partner with government agencies, nonprofits and the private sector to provide a one-stop shop of health and human services for homeless San Franciscans. During PHC’s events, participants are able to accomplish in one day what might normally take eight months.

During the Dec. 9 event, our school will provide expanded oral health services in addition to the usual screenings. People who need further treatment will be taken back to the school for additional dental services here on campus. To learn more about Project Homeless Connect, visit www.projecthomelessconnect.com.

In another special activity this month, students involved in our American Student Dental Association (ASDA) school chapter have “adopted” a family at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco. The ASDA students have been collecting gifts and will present them to the family before the holiday break.

Last month, November 10-20, students organized a holiday food drive to benefit the San Francisco Food Bank. More than 400 cans or boxes of food were donated. Students also took up a collection, raising an additional $1,674 for the Food Bank.

Both the “adopt a family” program and food drive are part of an initiative called Pacific Pays it Forward. This is a student-led series of activities to give students, faculty and staff a chance to get involved in volunteer activities outside the scope of dentistry. The ASDA chapter has been busy exploring other ideas and planning for the new year, so we look forward to future opportunities to help.

My hat goes off to all of our students who are so involved in these projects to benefit the community. It is inspiring to see their commitment to assisting others, whether by providing oral health services for the public, or providing a helping hand in other ways not connected to dentistry.

Welcome back. I hope you got some rest over the break and had time to spend with your family and friends. I want to thank you all for the past year. We accomplished much. Without your passion and commitment, our accomplishments would not have been possible. As usual, we will have much to do this coming year. I know it will be an exciting and fulfilling year.

I was fortunate to be able to spend some time with the Class of 2011 this past Friday, chatting with them for about two hours. I talked about my personal philosophy. In addition, I spoke about the profession and what it means to be an oral healthcare provider in society as well as the tremendous positive aspects of the Dugoni School. They are an extraordinary group of young people. Not only have they achieved a strong academic record, but they have demonstrated a commitment to the community and to leadership. They have been engaged at their various universities, supporting their communities, as well as holding leadership positions. I asked them to keep that passion, not only during the time they are here, but continue it on throughout life. I talked with them about a frustration with myself and other baby boomers who made a commitment to change the world when we were at our own universities. I believe we have failed to keep up with that passion and commitment.

On Saturday, I was able to greet a little more than 200 significant others - parents, spouses, friends, and other relatives - who will be giving our students great support during the next three years. As I explained to them, the dental school is challenging and they need to continue to be an important part of their lives.

Each time I walk away from one of these events, I feel proud to be a part of this great institution. My theme throughout the weekend was the importance of people. The common thread throughout all great organizations is the fact that they have great people, which is clearly the case at the Dugoni School. I feel blessed to begin my third year as the dean and work with so many extraordinary people. We have 500+ faculty and staff, and 500+ students, giving us over 1,000. Our reach extends beyond that to our 6,000+ alumni, friends, and supporters.

I look forward to working with you all during the coming year. If there is anything I can do for you personally, please feel free to contact me. My very best wishes.