Go to content

Leadership: 'Great expansions' for mentoring professionalism program

Great Expectations

Dental students get the opportunity to fish, play volleyball and horsehoes, and visit with their mentors at the annual cookout at 1984 alumnus Dr. Larry Herwig's ranch.

Photos courtesy Great Expectations

Great Expectations program enters its fourth year with more student mentors than ever before

Dr. Mark Gannaway has a convenient problem. Interest from D3 and D4 students who want to be mentors in the 2011-2012 Great Expectations program is greater than ever. The increase is so substantial it warranted changing some of the program’s meeting venues just to accommodate the climbing number of participants.

In the past, Great Expectations, a mentoring professionalism program now in its fourth year at Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry, received approximately 30 student mentors between the D3 and D4 classes. The number shot up to 50 this year, and Gannaway, associate professor of restorative sciences, attributes it to the impact of the mentoring program — then in its early years — on upperclassmen when they were incoming dental students.

“They were some of the first classes we have affected, to date,” says Gannaway, faculty adviser for the program since it started in 2008. “They seem to want to give something back already,” he says of the D3 and D4 mentors.

Sharing knowledge and influencing perspectives

Sarah Percy, a D4 student mentor, acknowledges this trend.

“There seems to be more involvement from the D3s and D4s than in previous years. I think everyone just wants to pass on advice and knowledge they’ve acquired since starting dental school,” says Percy, who is mentoring for the second year. “There are so many little things we wish we knew as D1s, and we want to share that knowledge.”

Finding a way to give back is why David Trevino, D4, also is mentoring for the second time. He said he likes to put things into perspective for underclassmen, especially when they have questions, just like he once did.

“I was always wondering how to approach things like studying for exams and boards or preparing for clinic,” says Trevino. “It was nice to have an upperclassman help me out; just talking to someone that's been there and done that helps tremendously."

Great Expectations
TAMHSC-BCD students meet with Great Expectations mentor
Dr. Bill Gerlach '87 (far left) and Dr. Bob Hutchins, professor in
sciences (far right).

It’s for that reason that Gannaway abandoned his original intent to accept one junior and one senior for each mentoring group and actually doubled that amount.

“There are so many little things we wish we knew as D1s,

and we want to share that knowledge.”

— Sarah Percy, D4 student mentor

This means that each of the 12 mentoring groups will be composed of one mentor from the International College of Dentists — the college’s partner in the collaborative program — one TAMHSC-BCD faculty member, at least two D3 mentors, at least two D4s mentors and up to nine D1 students.

“When I tried to separate the ‘best 12,’ I said, ‘This is crazy! Let’s let them all work with the program,’” Gannaway says. “Flexibility is important, and I don’t want to limit the participation, if possible.”

The program also offers benefits to mentors but of a different sort than when they were D1s.

Benefits all around

Just ask D4 Megan Miller, another veteran student mentor.

“The advice I received from the student mentors when I was in the program encouraged me,” says Miller, who has been involved in Great Expectations since she was an incoming dental student. “I don't think I would have been as successful at or prepared for the challenges of the first year without the guidance of my student mentors. It is comforting to know those who have gone before you and survived!”

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the program is the open lines of communication it creates between incoming dental students, their senior classmates and seasoned professionals. It allows students to relate to faculty members and ICD mentors and gives them a chance to realize that others understand the challenges they’re experiencing. The networking opportunities and ethical perspective are added bonuses.

The benefits are available to students as a result of the collaboration between TAMHSC-BCD and the ICD that dates to 2007, when Dr. C. Moody Alexander, clinical professor and former chair of orthodontics, was president of the Texas Section of the ICD. After Alexander hooked Gannaway on the value the program could hold for students, it took a year of planning — not to mention support from Dr. James S. Cole, former dean, Dr. Jack Long, associate dean for student affairs, and Moira Allen, director of student affairs — before the program became a reality. 

Four years later, Gannaway’s hope is that the future number of mentors in the program remains similar.

A cap may have to be established for logistics’ sake, but on the other hand, he acknowledges the benefits of a large mentor base.

“Some of the student mentors can’t participate in all the events,” says Gannaway. “That actually works to our benefit, as we always have someone there to help with the freshmen. And the freshmen get some different points of view."



D1 student participation in Great Expectations is voluntary, but a vast majority of students still choose to attend at least some of the year’s events, which are listed below.

  • August: This year’s ice cream social was Aug. 20 in the college’s sixth floor foyer. The topics of discussion were time management and stress management, as D1s were adjusting to the dental school course load.
  • September/October: These meetings are typically at the office of each group’s respective International College of Dentists mentor. This meeting, which often includes dinner, is structured to give students a taste of private practice life. 
  • November: Dinner at the Dallas County Dental Society office allows DCDS mentors to meet with students. This year’s event will be at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 10 and will be catered by Blue Mesa Grill. Talking points include ethics, professionalism and the benefits of organized dentistry. 
  • February/March: These small group meetings, typically at ICD and BCD mentors’ homes, may include student topics of interest and a personality test. 
  • April: A cookout at 1984 alumnus Dr. Larry Herwig’s ranch gives students and mentors the chance to visit, fish, play volleyball and horseshoes, and more.