Vice Dean Comes Full Circle at GRU
Dr. Kevin Frazier’s destiny was set in stone by the time he was born – or so his family thought.
“There are lots of firefighters in my family – including my dad and oldest brother, who were battalion chiefs – so there was just an assumption I would follow in their footsteps,” says Frazier, who grew up near Baltimore. “Our father-son talk wasn’t about the birds and the bees; it was about me being a firefighter.”
Which actually suited Frazier just fine. With his sunny optimism, he has a huge capacity to bloom where he’s planted, and he was certainly proud of his family’s legacy. But as he made his way through high school, he couldn’t help being drawn to his brother-in-law’s profession: dentistry.
“My parents would put me on a Greyhound bus to visit my oldest sister in New Jersey,” he says. “I’d go to my brother-in-law’s dental office with him, and although I was fascinated by the technical and artistic aspects of what he did, what really got my attention was that everyone who came in acted like they wanted to be there. They shared all kinds of personal information because of the trust and respect they had for him. I thought, ‘Maybe I could do that.’”
His only concerns were an unremarkable academic record and the normal anxieties associated with changing direction. “No one in my immediate family had any significant experience in college, much less graduate school, and I changed schools four times in high school,” says Frazier. “I was literally starting over each year. I was a B student in high school, then I went to two years of community college, where I progressed to a B plus student while working nearly full time for Publix. I needed those two years of stability to mature and gainsome confidence.”
By the time he began his junior year at the University of Florida, he was hitting his stride. “That’s when I became an avid student,” he says. Frazier double-majored in zoology and anthropology, got involved in research, and graduated with high honors. He then spent a year working in a dental laboratory in Ft. Myers, Fla., to raise money for dental school and increase his proficiency in dental skills. By the time he returned to his alma mater for his dental degree, he knew he was on the right path.
“Dental school was one of the most satisfying academic experiences I’ve ever had,” he says. “It just came very naturally to me. It was a lot of hard work, but it was fun. I enjoyed the service and leadership opportunities available in that large campus environment.”
He even squeezed family life into his schedule, marrying a University of Florida nursing student. “I knew I married well when my wife allowed me to go on my first dental mission trip to Haiti during our first wedding anniversary,” he says.
From Student to Teacher
After earning his dental degree and completing a general practice residency, Frazier worked in private practice in Gainesville, Fla., while serving on the University of Florida College of Dentistry faculty part time. He soon joined the faculty full time, acknowledging a somewhat disorienting adjustment period.
“I was teaching alongside my former professors, and I could barely bring myself to call them by their first names,” he says. “I always felt a bit intimidated by their vast knowledge and experience.”
Still, he had found his version of nirvana: dentistry combined with teaching, which he soon discovered was one of his greatest joys. “Sometimes you’ve got to get up close and personal with dental students to be effective,” he says, citing the extensive hands-on training involved in teaching clinical skills while modeling and coaching professional behaviors. “We’re with them for four years – weddings are taking place, children are being born – and it’s exciting to witness such a dramatic time in their lives. It’s a real privilege to take that journey with them.”
He had such natural rapport and affinity with the students that the UF dental school soon asked him to chair the Student Affairs Committee, a challenge he took on with gusto. It was in 1995 that he looked a bit farther north to advance his career.
“I saw a job posting (at the Georgia Regents University College of Dental Medicine) to teach restorative dentistry. I drove up with the family, arriving in Augusta well past 11 p.m., and remember sitting on the bathroom floor of my motel room after midnight so as not to wake the kids, previewing my slides to prepare for an interview presentation the next day.”
He laughs that his hyper-anxiety about the visit stood in stark contrast to the relaxed vibe of those who interviewed him. “Everybody was so easy-going and friendly,” he says.
‘What ’s Not to Like?’
He’d been offered the GRU job before he even made it home to Florida, and he accepted it almost just as quickly. “It’s the best move I ever made,” he says simply. “What’s not to like? Augusta is a great place to live and work.”
Plus, upon arrival, he found he had ample opportunity to help optimize the student experience. “I chaired the dental Student Affairs Committee like I did in Florida,” he says, “and [Associate Dean] Carole Hanes and I started our dental White Coat Ceremony [formally welcoming dental students into the clinical portion of their training].”
He also leveraged his proximity to a liberal arts university (Augusta State University, now the Summerville Campus of GRU) and earned a specialist degree in education. “Our tuition reimbursement program made it very affordable, and the College of Education faculty challenged and inspired me,” he says.
To satisfy the coursework requirement to create a campus improvement project from scratch, Frazier in 2008 launched a student service and leadership honor fraternity for GRU: Alpha Upsilon Phi.
“I noticed that most of our good student leaders come from the middle of the class,” he says. “They’re well-rounded, academically competent, extremely ethical, and compassionate enough to want to make things better for others. I wanted to create an organization that recognized them and cultivated.
He worked with GRU’s Student Government Association, creating a logo and motto for the fraternity, along with extensive collateral materials. “I even had a brochure made up for this fraternity that didn’t technically exist yet,” he says. “I guess I was a pretty convincing salesman, because the project proposal was well-received. My professor encouraged me to do it.”
A few months after the project was graded, he’d turned AUPhi into a reality, achieving the daunting task of toppling the de facto silos that often limited interaction between students in different colleges. The fraternity’s inaugural initiation ceremony in May 2008 was the first event to take place in the newly remodeled Auditoria Center.
Extending His Reach
Frazier’s initiative got the attention of GRU administrators. “I’d already arranged to interview [then-Provost] Barry Goldstein for an American Dental Education Association leadership project, but when I got to his office, he said, ‘I actually want to talk to you about something else first. All the great student affairs stuff you’ve done in the dental school? I want all our students to have that.’”
Frazier was offered the job of Vice President for Student Services and Development campuswide, while still retaining his College of Dental Medicine faculty duties half time. He eagerly accepted, quickly amassing achievements in student development including expanding AUPhi, starting a chapter of the academic honor society Phi Kappa Phi, initiating an interprofessional student leadership class, enhancing the capacity of student health services, and raising the profile of registered student organizations, including the Student Government Association.
He relished the dizzying pace, but after several years had to concede that he was stretched pretty thin, noting wryly that he had essentially come full circle: “I felt like a fireman at times, trying to respond to urgent situations before they got out of control.”
Jumping at the Chance
So when College of Dental Medicine Dean Carol A. Lefebvre recently invited him to come back to the dental college full time – this time as Vice Dean – he jumped at the chance.
“Lots of exciting initiatives are underway that can greatly benefit the College of Dental Medicine,” he says, citing examples including a BS-to-DMD degree program, opportunities for health sciences students to pursue an MBA in GRU’s Hull College of Business, and a newly reorganized GRU Faculty Development Office to foster interprofessional opportunities for personal growth and career advancement.
“Because of my university-wide experience,” Frazier says, “I fully appreciate the value in these collaborations, and I know who to call for help and advice. I can’t tell you how excited I am about my new role.”
Still in the Trenches
He still retains many of his former duties – and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I still teach in student clinics and see patients in the dental faculty practice clinic, both half a day a week,” he says, “along with continuing to contribute to research and scholarship. I thought, ‘If I’m responsible for supporting our faculty, I need to be credible.’ I’m still in the trenches, practicing what I preach.”
As much as Frazier enjoys his job, his chief source of pride is his family. Wife Mimi is Director of Nursing for an ambulatory surgery center. Daughter Kaitlyn is a medical student at Emory University, and her younger sister, Jaclyn, is a senior studying communications and business administration at GRU. The girls are as well-rounded as their dad; Kaitlyn, a newlywed, was Ms. Georgia Tech and an honors graduate in biomedical engineering. Jaclyn is a gifted artist who recently accompanied her dad on a mission trip to Romania. The Augusta area, Frazier says, was a great place for his children to grow up and launch their dreams.