Lacy’s efforts lauded
There are no lazy days of summer for students participating in dental school preparatory programs through Texas A&M College of Dentistry’s Center of Excellence. And with 116 students in seven different programs this summer, the center’s staff and faculty hardly have time to catch their breaths.
They all paused to celebrate in late June, however, when the center’s director, Dr. Ernie Lacy, was notified that the college would receive its second consecutive nearly $3.5 million five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers of Excellence program to advance student and faculty diversity.
“There were major cheers all around and then … back to work,” says Lacy, executive director of the Office of Student Development and program director for the grant. “This funding is so timely, necessary and greatly appreciated.
“Our programs are thriving, our students are succeeding and there’s so much more we want to accomplish. I am proud of my staff and all of the faculty, other personnel and administrators – especially Dean Wolinsky – and our community partners who support and value our efforts to recruit and retain minority dental students and faculty, with the ultimate goal of increasing access to quality, affordable oral health care in our underserved communities.”
The College of Dentistry is making an impact well beyond North Texas. It leads the nation’s dental schools in student diversity, and data shows that most of its graduates who hailed from underserved communities are providing dental care to those populations through their practices and community service.
Just days before Lacy received the good news regarding the grant, 14 recent college graduates presented their final papers at the dental school and wrapped up their yearlong Post-Baccalaureate Program with plans to matriculate as first-year dental students at the College of Dentistry in the fall. The week after the grant announcement, 10 high school graduates who are starting their undergraduate education at various colleges this fall completed the Summer Pre-Dental Enrichment Program Collegiate I, which familiarizes the students with the college environment and begins their preparation for the Dental Admissions Test.
There are more enrichment program sessions slated at the dental school for high schoolers this summer, and planning for the fall pre-kindergarten through high school programming is in full swing. Operating under the auspices of the college’s longtime Bridge to Dentistry, these outreach and educational programs leading to careers in dentistry represent one component of the college’s Center of Excellence.
Other COE core components include providing academic support for optimal student performance for all students; facilitating faculty recruitment and development through master’s and certificate-level education programs for health care professionals; increasing access to literature and research related to underserved and minority populations and health, socioeconomic and cultural issues; and providing opportunities for students to provide care in community clinics with underserved patient populations.
“None of what we do occurs by happenstance,” says Dr. Lawrence Wolinsky, dean of the dental school. “We’ve made a concerted effort to recruit highly qualified students and graduate outstanding dental professionals. Developing and growing our pipeline program has been a priority for more than 20 years. I am proud of Dr. Lacy and our college, and I am honored by the recognition for what we’ve accomplished. Receiving this second highly competitive grant essentially says ‘keep up the good work.’”