A Q&A with the Dr. Bertha Garcia, Vice Dean & Director, Dentistry

How would you describe the past few months?

It has been a very busy nine months for our teams across Dentistry. But faculty, staff and students have all responded positively and collaboratively throughout the constant change we are experiencing. Things at our School are going very well, much better than perhaps any of us would have expected when the pandemic started.

I see a bright future for Dentistry. We are already on the map in so many ways and since the pandemic, we have been leading many dentistry program initiatives across the country. We have made positive changes during the past year and we are at the beginning of this journey of change. There is a lot more to come and I am hopeful that all our faculty, staff and students, as well as our alumni continue to be engaged. Their voices are crucial to our decision-making.

Dentistry has been recruiting a number of faculty, can you provide us with an update?

Since mid-2019, we have hired 14 new faculty members – five of whom are tenure track and 12 new staff members This has been a significant effort and one that was critical to our moving forward in a strong way.

The response to our recruitment efforts has been incredible. I have noticed a significant increase in attendance at the research presentations by our faculty hires; in some instances, more than 70 full- and part-time faculty and students have attended. I’m very grateful to all our faculty, staff and students for their continued interest and proud of their continued engagement. Because of their interest, we have been able to warmly welcome new faculty to our School.

Now that the Antonios Mamandras Chair in Graduate Orthodontics has been funded, when will the position be filled?

Thanks to strong alumni donor support, we have completed the funding of the Antonios Mamandras Chair in Graduate Orthodontics. I’m pleased to share that we recently held the first meeting for the search committee to fill the Chair. Committee members representing the Dean’s Office, community orthodontists and alumni will play an important role in developing the job posting, as well as with the interviews and selection of the Chair. It is our hope that we will have interviews in the late winter and early spring and will offer a position beginning at the start of the 2021 academic year.

What education innovations have your teams undertaken? And what are the outcomes?

While the pandemic presented us with many challenges, our education leaders took advantage of the many restrictions to implement new models of teaching and patient care that we had already been considering. The changes to our clinic model have resulted in greater clinical experiences for our students and the achievement of milestones sooner than in past years. We’ve also found more innovative ways to make up for reduced capacity by using mannequins in the clinic. This has given our students the opportunity to practice between patients and continues to enhance their hand skills.

In the virtual world of didactic teaching, the pandemic has pushed us to become even more engaged with our students. Thanks to the Dentistry e-Learning Task Force we were able to transform a lot of teaching material into a more asynchronous, independent, virtual learning model. There are more opportunities for interactive teaching, more quizzes and more opportunities to interact synchronously. I also think that, because their classroom is now at home, our students have become much more independent in their learning – which can only help them as they progress throughout their careers.

Are there any new education projects on the horizon?

One of the most significant and exciting projects that we are working on in education is a pilot for experiential learning for fourth-year students. We are hoping to create a distributed education program in the local and/or regional community where our students will be working with community dentists. We’ve received great interest from you – our alumni, as well as other dentists from as far away as Windsor, and we are excited to get a pilot in place for the spring of 2021. I believe that a program such as this one will offer an important opportunity for transition to practice before graduation for our students. Once we have completed the pilot, I will be working with our teams to make this an official part of our curriculum.

Looking ahead we will also be working on growing our graduate programs. We have very strong faculty leadership in a variety of specialties, giving us a strong foundation to expand our education offerings.

What research activities are underway?

Our research methodology and efforts are also continuing to evolve. New faculty hires have brought with them research interests, methodology and strength in population and public health, marginalized communities and oral health, the use of clinical trials for the management of oral health, virtual reality enhanced education and artificial intelligence. These areas complement our basic science research and are allowing us to grow our research enterprise and put ourselves on the map in a new realm.

Any final messages?

In closing, I want to thank all faculty, staff and students, as well as our very engaged alumni for their continued engagement, optimism and hope. I’m proud of what has been accomplished this past year and look forward to working with all of them and you in the coming months to achieve even more for our students, patients and the future of our School.