Big shoes to fill
The music swells inside the Meyerson Symphony Center, and the graduates file in, filling the back entryways. They’re poised for their procession down the aisle, but for the moment, they remain rooted to their posts. At the front of this lineup is Moira Allen, director of student affairs, perched on the top step. She is all at once composed yet ready to spring into action. The students are content to tread behind her watchful lead. For nearly three decades, it’s gone like this.
The May 26, 2016 commencement exercises for Texas A&M College of Dentistry were just like any other, save for one difference. It was Allen’s last time to lead the formalities. She began retirement just five days later. While we can’t necessarily tell the future, one thing is certain: Allen leaves big shoes to fill at the dental school.
For 29 years, Allen has tended to dental students as a mother hen to her chicks — sometimes nurturing, and at times, chiding — but always coming from a place of support. That support has taken the shape of doling out tissues to students when they need a shoulder to cry on, or holding their hands during hospital stays as a substitute for mom or dad, often thousands of miles away; even sharing her cellphone number to be available at a moment’s notice. And, when the situation warrants, to give students that “metaphorical knock on the head,” as Dr. Barbara Miller, executive director of recruitment and admissions, puts it.
In her no-holds-barred, snappy nature, you won’t find surprises with Allen, a former ballroom dancer and Scottish native turned kiwi who relocated from New Zealand to the States in the 1980s. After taking the job at the dental school in 1987, there was no need to work anywhere else. When asked in early 2013 why she had stayed at the school all those years, she had a matter-of-fact, heartfelt reply: “The students.”
So we went straight to the source — the students, after all — to learn more about Allen from those who know her best. Here’s what some of them, both current and former, had to say.
“As the matriarch of the dental school, Moira always kept us in line, but did so with grace and a sense of humor that truly enhanced my educational experience. Congrats on a job well done and on moving to the next step!”
— Dr. Chris Cramer ’13, ’16
“Moira is like a mother to all students. She helps us with all of our organizations, graduations, white coat ceremonies, holiday galas, Dental Olympics, etc. And on top of all that, she also is a shoulder to cry/vent on when you have a stressful day. We are all going to miss her so much!”
— Dr. Stephanie Ganter ’16
“Within the hectic circus of doctors and other professionals that we call Baylor College of Dentistry, you have one ringmaster: Moira Allen.”
— Dr. Ryan Trevino ’16
“If you need a good laugh, Moira is the person to go to. She has such a great sense of humor!”
— Zhinow Abdullah, DH2
“Moira is such a great person; I cannot imagine the dental school without her. There aren’t many administrators who hang out in the rain at Dental Olympics with the students like Moira did!”
— Graydon Wyatt, D4
“Moira has always had an open door policy and has helped me on multiple accounts. From student organizations and planning volunteer events to helping build my CV, she has always been there for me.”
— Keith Mahipala, D4