DCG Director of Admissions Stephanie Perry has spent almost 20 years helping ensure a student body that reflects the faces and values of the citizens the graduates will serve.
1) How has your role evolved over the years regarding helping to ensure diversity and inclusion on campus?
I initially was tasked not only with creating pipelines that opened up opportunities for minorities and others traditionally under-represented in dentistry, but to ensure that those pipelines led to greater diversity. I’m very intentional, and I learned how to be a squeaky wheel when necessary. Good intentions need to be backed up with actual resources: funding, action and support. I gravitated toward the audiences that needed the most help and I’ve worked as hard as I can on their behalf. When I joined the DCG in 2001, the first-year class had four African Americans, and over the years, that range has been as many as 12, so I know we’re making a real difference. I will continue to be a part of that change.
2) How have you transformed good intentions into actions?
I’m very deliberate about visiting undergraduate colleges and reaching out to some high schools where students might not be able to envision themselves applying to dental school. I need to be able to answer all their questions and address all their concerns. When I visit their schools, I am the face of DCG. What I say could make the difference in whether they apply or not. Mostly, what I need to relay is that they will have a friend and supporter in me. I’m very open and available. As the faculty advisor for the Student National Dental Association, which supports the academic and social environment of minority students, I’m heavily involved in initiatives such as the Impressions Program, a pipeline program for under-represented minorities. I want students to know they will be welcome, comfortable, supported and well-represented on our campus.
3) How has your role grown more challenging through the years?
I’m passionate about growing your own, but we accept students from all over the country now (initially, DCG accepted only Georgia residents), and the competition is stiff. In 2001, we had about 139 applicants, all from Georgia. This year, we had 857 from coast to coast. If you’re a good school, the whole country knows it, and our reputation attracts many of the best candidates in the nation. Once they’re here, my challenge is making sure the environment is as sensitive as possible to whatever culture they may come from. I co-chair the DCG Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee and sit in on focus groups for students, residents, staff, faculty and alumni. Interestingly, a lot of the same issues come up with each group. We have improved in cultivating a culturally sensitive environment, but we clearly still have more work to do. The challenge is to have a welcoming environment ready for our students before they ever step foot on campus and continue until they leave as dentists.