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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.

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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.

Last Monday, I had a fantastic opportunity to play one of the top golf courses in the country, the Lake Course at the Olympic Club, just south of San Francisco.

More impressive than the quality of the course, however, was the goal of this special event, the 12th annual “Kids in the Klinic” Golf Classic. Our school raised nearly $90,000 through the tournament, silent auction, live auction and sponsor donations.

The Kids in the Klinic endowment helps fund dental services for underserved children throughout Northern California. More than 1,500 children, including some with special needs, extensive medical conditions and debilitating conditions, call the Dugoni School of Dentistry their dental office. This year especially, the endowment plays a critical role in providing care in this time of economic need by so many families.

While my golf game could use a tune-up, I felt great about my round, no matter what the score. This event brings out the best in our school family. We had student and staff volunteers, donors, alumni, recent graduates and friends of the school all participating and getting involved to produce a unique event at one of the most historic athletic clubs in the country. If you were there, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. If you haven’t yet participated, please keep it in mind for next year.

Dr. Susan Bittner, one of our school’s graduates, started Kids in the Klinic in 1997. She had the vision and took the initiative to create this endowment, which has positively impacted thousands of children over the years.

I’d also like to also thank our event chairman Steve Mollinelli, who put so much time into the Golf Classic. He and his wife just welcomed a new baby boy a few weeks ago. We’re thankful for everything he did to organize the event amid his busy schedule with his newborn son.

Our corporate sponsors also stepped up to the tee to support this cause. You can read our full list of sponsors, as well as a recap of the event, by visiting the news story posted here. Thanks again to everyone involved!

Our DDS Class of 2009
Our DDS Class of 2009

A key component of our school’s mission statement is to “actualize individual potential” and one of our core values is Humanism (dignity, integrity, responsibility). In other words, we aspire to help individuals become everything that they are capable of through our supportive and encouraging environment.

I’ve often wondered why the humanistic model of education is such an important part of the culture and success at the Dugoni School of Dentistry. Why do so many students, residents, faculty, and staff thrive as members of the Pacific family? Is there any science that explains why our model works?

Here’s something to ponder. Many years ago, Abraham Maslow developed a theory of personality that influenced a number of different fields, including education. He theorized that individuals can only self-actualize when certain basic needs are achieved in a specific order. His hierarchy theory is often represented as a pyramid with physiological needs (e.g. oxygen, food) at the base; followed by safety needs; needs for love affection and belongingness; needs for esteem; and at the top, needs for self-actualization. When the environment is supportive, individuals will grow and actualize the potential they have inherited.

Maslow believed that the only reason people did not move well in the direction of self-actualization is because of hindrances placed in their way by society. He stated that education could be one of these hindrances and we need to switch from “person-stunting” tactics to “person-growing” approaches.

At Pacific, we’ve definitely adopted the person-growing approach. Our humanistic family environment fosters a feeling of mutual respect, dignity, and self-worth. Our approach to dental education is to create a supportive environment for teaching, learning, and working.

I agree with my mentor and friend Dr. Art Dugoni who said, “I am firmly convinced that we must not just develop superior dentists to succeed as dentists but rather individuals who have truly learned the meaning of life: the ability to express themselves; and the willingness to improve, to listen, and to grow through meaningful experiences with other human beings. What greater gift can we give to our students than the development of their own self worth? This special ingredient says to every individual that they are worthwhile, they are important.”

So this year, as we graduate another group of outstanding students and residents, and celebrate another year of achievement and accomplishment, take the time to think about our fantastic model of education. There’s science behind our success.