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Progress Notes

Dr. Ernestine Lacy

Dr. Ernestine Lacy, executive director of student development and multiculural affairs, treats a patient with help from Pedro
Huerta, a Dallas Townview Magnet Center dental assisting student.

Media Resources/Steven Doll

Fostering student, faculty diversity: Here’s how it’s done.

   In these Q-and-A sessions, we take a closer look at pressing topics within the dental profession and what they mean to Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry.
From TAMBCD initiatives to hot-button questions, we consult the college’s own subject matter experts to get their input.

This issue includes the perspectives of Dr. Ernestine Lacy, executive director of the Office of Student Development and Multicultural Affairs, who recently was honored with the American Dental Education Association’s prestigious Gies Award for Outstanding Achievement.

It’s been a landmark year for diversity initiatives at TAMBCD. Perhaps the biggest highlight came this summer, with news of a $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Center of Excellence program, enabling a pioneering expansion of the college’s Bridge to Dentistry program.

But as Lacy will attest, the key to that success is not the result of her efforts alone or merely the product of good planning within her team. Its roots take on a much broader scope. Here’s more.

BDRO: Because the Bridge to Dentistry program targets students from prekindergarten through postdoctoral education, you probably understand better than most the phrase “It takes a village.” What support systems does a dental school need to have in place in order to help its student development initiatives flourish like the Bridge to Dentistry program?

Lacy: I look at support from two vantage points, one in terms of resources: the money, the facilities, the personnel, materials and supplies. The other is philosophical support, and that primarily is the most important kind. There has to be a philosophical belief in what’s being done. Without that belief, a lot can go into material resources, but the program is not going to be effective.

The support has to start at the top with the school’s leaders, the dean and those in administrative positions who can impact what we do. That’s very important. From there support can become schoolwide.

As you said, it takes a village. Bridge to Dentistry is not “Ernie Lacy’s project” or “student development and multicultural affairs’ project.” It is TAMBCD’s initiative. I think the school has to take ownership of Bridge to Dentistry, and because it does, we’ve gotten support from just about every department and office.

BDRO: Nearly every facet of your job requires you to interact with students. Whether it’s the teens in the dental assisting class at Dallas’ Townview Magnet Center where you see patients, the high schoolers and college scholars in the Summer Predental Enrichment Program or promising dental students on track for a simultaneous DDS and master’s degree in dental education, at what moments are you most proud of your Bridge to Dentistry students?

Lacy: If I had to choose one moment, it’s when students achieve a dental education, earn their degrees and then join us as dental professionals. That would have to be the ultimate because it is the culmination of all of the steps along the way. There are many milestones and intermediate steps at which I’m very proud of them. When students who have participated in Bridge to Dentistry — maybe as high schoolers — graduate college and matriculate into our DDS program, that’s a proud moment. Another is when dental students express an interest in and pursue training for academic dentistry. Eight students applied to earn a master’s degree through the Education for Healthcare Professionals Program in our inaugural year of the Center of Excellence. That is very exciting.

BDRO: It’s safe to say TAMBCD has come a long way in terms of student diversity. In fact, underrepresented minority students now comprise 34 percent of the student body, which is quite a bragging point, considering in 2000, the entering class included just 15 percent underrepresented minorities. Based on student feedback, what work still needs to be done? Where can we stand to grow?

Lacy: Student diversity is definitely significantly greater than it was in ’96 when we started this phase of the college’s outreach programs.

We actually administered a survey to some of our students in fall 2011. We’ve been discussing the results of that survey with just about everyone at the college. There are two areas where — based on student feedback — we still have room for growth. One is continuing and possibly increasing the cultural competence training that we have here. We can’t just assume that everyone is culturally competent relative to interactions with patients, students, staff, faculty and administrators. I know that Drs. Barbara Miller and Lavern Holyfield are looking at ways to strengthen cultural competence training at all levels of the college.

The second suggestion made by students is to increase the diversity of the college’s faculty. Although we’ve done extremely well in terms of diversifying the student body, we can improve the diversity of the faculty. Why is that so important? I think that while diversity increases the cultural competence of the whole college, it also increases the richness of the educational experience. It benefits everyone, whether we are talking about students, staff, faculty or patients.