“I believe we are all leaders, if not leaders of people or projects, then of our own lives.”
This is Dr. Scott T. Wallace’s summation of one of the most vital lessons he believes educators can impart to students. And he thinks the philosophy should be reinforced both in and out of the classroom.
As Augusta University’s associate vice president and dean of students, Wallace oversees a broad range of student offerings, including extracurricular clubs and organizations. These, he believes, are among the most important components of an education. Thanks to the exhaustive efforts of AU administrators, faculty, support staff and the students themselves, those opportunities are in ample supply.
“Getting involved in student organizations enhances the classroom and clinical learning,” says Wallace. “It provides an opportunity to interact with other students and gain new perspectives from people all around the globe. And it provides opportunities to develop leadership skills that are important for navigating life after school.”
His commitment to this goal is both professional and personal. “As parents,” Wallace says, “my wife and I talk a lot about how leadership skills are essential for raising a family. We are the leaders of our family. The leadership skills you begin developing in student organizations are essential for a future dental practice and/or a future family.”
Dr. Van B. Haywood, professor in the Department of Restorative Sciences, agrees wholeheartedly. “Student organizations provide opportunities for meeting other students across class lines, both for encouragement and inspiration,” he says. “They provide arenas to interact with faculty on a different level and learn more about each other outside the classroom.”
The results, he says, are a boon to both the participants and society in general. “Student organizations provide a focused group of likes and interests where gifts and leadership can be developed for the common good, benefiting the individual, the group and the community at large,” Haywood says.
Alumni often reference their extracurricular activities as among the most memorable of their DCG experiences. For instance, Dr. Emily Williams (’20), who served as co-coordinator of the Equality Clinic during her junior and senior years of dental school, emphasizes the fulfillment of contributing to a mission that aligns with one’s values. “I’m really drawn to public health dentistry, and there are very few clinics like this in the Southeast, outside of major urban areas like Atlanta,” she says of the clinic that offers health care services for the LGBTQ community. “I just love helping people improve their overall quality of life.”
Likewise, the DCG Chapter of the Student National Dental Association puts its values in action through activities such as the Impressions Program, which offers a close-up look at dental school for minority teens and undergraduates in hopes of attracting them to the profession. Says Dr. Atijah Collins (’17), who served as president of the chapter while in dental school, “The chapter has been on the forefront and a strong leader in the push for more diversity. There must be a more directed and strategic approach to address inequalities in health care.”
Club participation can also serve those closest to home. For instance, when Dr. Michelle Lonati (’19) was diagnosed with stage-two Hodgkin’s lymphoma during dental school, the DCG Chapter of the American Association for Women Dentists sponsored a 5K run to defray her medical expenses. “My team had bracelets made that had “#TeamLonati” on one side and “No One Fights Alone” on the other,” Lonati recalls. “I’d see them on people’s wrists walking down the hall. I’ll never forget that.”
Extracurricular participation also ideally blazes the path to lifelong involvement in community and organized dentistry.
Says Dr. Richard Weinman (’76), a past president of the Georgia Dental Association, “I actively support dentists’ participation in organized dentistry and regularly implore DCG students to be active in the GDA. The way we practice is constantly being challenged [by non-dentists]. We must be able to discuss these changes and influence their final outcome or prevent changes that harm patient outcomes. I have seen the power of organized dentistry. It has made all the difference in how we practice and in the quality of our care.”
Dr. Ben W. Jernigan Jr. (’76) concurs. “I believe it is critical for upcoming dentists to be involved with organized dentistry,” says Jernigan, also a past GDA president. “There are so many forces affecting our practice that if we don’t make ourselves heard as a unified voice, we will lose the autonomy and respect we have earned over the years.”
Says Wallace, “What you learn by getting engaged in a student organization is something you will take with you for the rest of your life.”
Here’s an at-a-glance look at some DCG organizations:
- American Student Dental Association
This national student-run organization protects and advances the rights, interests and welfare of dental students. It introduces students to lifelong involvement in organized dentistry and provides resources to ease their path toward graduation. DCG’s chapter hosts the Welcome Back Reception, Table Clinic Day, an annual talent show and numerous educational and social functions. Every DCG student is a member.
- Student National Dental Association
Incorporated in 1972 under the National Dental Association to encourage the recruitment, admission, development and graduation of minority dental and dental hygiene students, the DCG chapter hosts activities related to minority recruitment, tutoring, social and professional programs and community and university relations.
- Give a Smile Foundation
This nonprofit organization was created by students in 2004 to advance oral health in the community. Underprivileged patients are charged on a sliding scale based on their ability to pay.
- Students United with America’s Tooth Fairy
This organization enables students to begin treating children early in their dental education, addressing caries prevention and oral health disparities for underserved children.
- Student Professionalism and Ethics Association in Dentistry
This national student-driven association advances ethical behavior in the dental profession.
- Operation Smile
This nonprofit provides cleft lip and palate repair to children worldwide. Members also helps other countries reach self-sufficiency with these surgeries and works to reduce the occurrence of common birth defects.
- American Association of Public Health Dentistry Student Chapter
The association is open to all individuals concerned with improving the oral health of the public.
- Dentists 4Della
Sponsored by DCG, the program serves residents of the Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home and provides outreach to the elderly.
- Hispanic Student Dental Association
This organization advances the oral health of the U.S. Hispanic population. Other goals include recruiting and retaining Hispanic students, matching students in the Big Brother/Sister program, translating for non-English-speaking patients and organizing intra- and extra-mural events. Students and faculty from all ethnic backgrounds are welcome to join.
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Interest Group
This group exposes dentists to the specialty through direct interaction with specialists in the field. Students receive application assistance and hear surgeons speak at meetings and gatherings to discuss the specialty.
- Augusta University Dental Fellowship
This chapter of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations advances the needs and interests of Christian dental and dental hygiene students.
- Student Government Association
This Augusta University organization Improves student quality of life, along with the university and community as a whole. All students are members, and its two bodies (Senate and House of Representatives) serve as liaisons between students and the AU administration.
For more information about DCG student organizations, visit augusta.edu/dentalmedicine/admit/organizations.php