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Summer Pre-Dental Enrichment Program

Summer Pre-Dental Enrichment Program makes dreams reality

Lifelong dreams can start from unexpected beginnings.  For Daisy Vargas, her dream of becoming a dentist began when her childhood friend lost a tooth.

"When I was in kindergarten my best friend and I were running and she fell down and knocked her tooth out," Vargas said.  "She was crying and I told her not to worry because when I grew up I was going to become a dentist and I would make her a new tooth."

SPEP 2010 ClassMany years and many classes later, Daisy is working diligently to turn that dream into reality.  The Summer Pre-Dental Enrichment Program at Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry is a guidepost along Daisy's career path.

SPEP is designed to increase students' dental career awareness through hands-on activities, interaction with dental faculty and collaboration with students who share the same interests.  The program also helps students develop study skills in preparation for admission to college. 

There are multiple components to SPEP designed to appeal to different age/grade ranges. 

SPEP 10 and SPEP 11 are one-week programs for students entering 10th or 11th grade.  Both programs increase awareness of dentistry as a career path. 

SPEP 12 is a six-week program that gives rising 12th-grade students the opportunity to learn more about dentistry, prepares them for the SAT exam and increases their competitiveness for college admission. 

Pre-College SPEP is a six-week program for high school graduates who have shown a definite interest in dentistry.  During the program they prepare for college and learn more about dentistry by taking college-level courses, a pre-clinical dentistry course, the Pre-Dental Admissions Test course and the Investigating Dentistry course. They also participate in clinical rotations.

SPEP Collegiate is an eight-week program for college and post-college students.  It prepares them to take the Dental Admissions Test, strengthens their academic science background, increases their competitiveness for admission to dental school and enhances their success once admitted to dental school.

SPEP, part of the Bridge to Dentistry programs, is a win-win for Texas.  Finding convenient dental care is challenging for many Texas residents.  In fact, more than 40 percent of Texas' 254 counties are considered dentally underserved.  The Bridge to Dentistry programs attempt to reverse that trend by introducing a diverse group of students to careers in dentistry. 

The concept for the programs began almost 20 years ago under the guidance of Dr. Claude Williams, director of community outreach.  "There was a need to help students from socioeconomically and educationally deprived areas have an opportunity to become medical or dental professionals," said Williams.  The first program included four students participating in a three-week session. 

"In 1997 Dr. Ernestine Lacy, now director of student development and associate professor of restorative sciences, applied her dynamic personality and skills to the program and it took off," said Williams. In summer 2010, in fact, 112 participants benefited from SPEP, which now includes a high school and pre-college component.

"Dr. Lacy has worked tirelessly to develop pipeline mentoring programs to encourage minority enrollment and academic success at BCD," said Dr. James S. Cole, dean of HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry.  "Hundreds of bright minority students will now be rewarded for their hard work and diligence with a lifelong career in dentistry."

Daisy Vargas and her classmates presented their research projects on the final day of the program in front of family members, peers and faculty.  Each presentation was followed up with a question and answer session.  Many students prefaced their answers with, "Well, I am not a dentist but..."  Judging by the affirmative head-nods from the faculty as the students answered the questions, it appears that the future of dentistry is in good hands.