Dental Tribune America

Pipeline program inspires a diverse community of students to study dentistry

By Dental Tribune International
October 18, 2019

NEW YORK, U.S.: Encouraging people from all socio-economic backgrounds to study dentistry can only mean good things for the profession as a whole. However, as the cost of studying almost completely locks out those who come from the lower end of the economic scale, it is an almost impossible task. In 2012, two students from New York University College of Dentistry (NYUCD), who are now both full-time faculty members, set out to create a pipeline program for low-income high school students and those from underrepresented groups to boost their interest in studying dentistry.

According to the American Dental Education Association, just 15.2% of dental school applicants in 2016 were from underrepresented minority groups. The initiative, known as Saturday Academy, is aimed at changing that. Gathering two Saturdays a month, students taking part in the program are in their junior year at high school, and classes are run by volunteer dental students from NYUCD.

Speaking to Dental Tribune International, one of the founding members, Dr. Lorel Burns, who is now an assistant professor in the Department of Endodontics at NYUCD, said it was wonderful to see the commitment from the students who are involved and who take ownership of different roles.

As Burns and co-founder Dr. Cheryline Pezzullo, who is now a clinical instructor in the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care at NYUCD, started developing the program, the idea was to have a good balance between lectures and hands-on activities. “Each session teaches about a step of the college application process and provides the opportunity for mock interviews, and résumé and essay editing. Additionally, the high school students learn about different aspects of dentistry from dental students through hands-on activities,” said Burns. The program also helps with accessing financial aid, and regular interviews are held with the students’ parents to help guide them through the sometimes overwhelming process of applying to dental school.

Inspiring students to develop an interest in dentistry is the first step, but taking that inspiration and turning it into an application to a dental school can be more difficult. However, there has been a considerable degree of success. “Our first cohort of Saturday Academy alumni are just now of age to apply to dental school. We currently have two alumni applying to dental school this cycle (2019), and two alumni already enrolled in dental hygiene programs. Many more alumni have expressed continued interest in the dental profession; we expect many more alumni to apply to dental school in the coming years, with at least three more next year (2020 cycle).”

With several pipeline programs around the U.S., the NYUCD program offers something slightly different by inviting students into the dental school to learn in a multiple-session program. “Additionally, our program is committed to continued mentorship of our program alumni. We are very proud to report seven years of a successful and sustainable program,” noted Burns.

The program, which has featured interactive learning and has enjoyed continued support from faculty and students, is currently funded internally by the NYUCD, which is now seeking external financial support. That support will help ensure the program attendees can continue to pursue a career many would have thought well out of their reach, owing to financial limitations.

Commenting on the success of the program, Burns said, “It’s great to hear about how their [the students’] experience with Saturday Academy has opened up new educational and career perspectives. We have been fortunate to have many of our alumni stay in touch and refer their friends and family members to our program.”

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