Progressive vision wins accolades

College of Dentistry earns Gies Award for Vision–Academic Dental Institution
December 7th, 2020

The College of Dentistry wins kudos for its forward-thinking vision through inclusion and diversity programs.

Texas A&M University College of Dentistry has been selected for the 2021 Gies Award for Vision – Academic Dental Institution for significant contributions to oral health and dental education.

Eight awardees, chosen by the ADEAGies Foundation’s Board of Trustees, are slated to be honored virtually on March 12, 2021, at the Gies Awards @HOME program as part of the American Dental Education Association’s annual gathering.

“Through their extraordinary contributions, our Gies awardees are moving the needle forward in dental education and oral health,” says Dr. Marsha Pyle, ADEAGies Foundation® president.

Texas A&M College of Dentistry is the only academic dental institution being honored. The college’s forward-thinking vision through its diversity and inclusion programs underscores the school’s commitment to education and community oral health care. The initial groundwork for the College of Dentistry’s trailblazing efforts in diversity and inclusion was put into place many years ago.

“Nearly 25 years before cultural competency and diversity were addressed in the accreditation standards, the College of Dentistry initiated programs to encourage and support diversity in student enrollment, retention and graduation, and foster an inclusive institutional climate,” said Dr. Lawrence Wolinsky, dean of the College of Dentistry. More recently, initiatives led by Dr. Ernie Lacy, associate dean for student affairs; Dr. Barbara Miller assistant dean for recruitment and admissions; and Dr. Lavern Holyfield, assistant dean for diversity and faculty development, have contributed to these efforts.

Those programs include the Bridge to Dentistry, a pipeline outreach initiative that recruits and supports promising students (from grade school through college) in pursuing careers in dental health care. The Bridge to Dentistry recently received the 2020 Health Professions Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.

The College of Dentistry also implemented school-wide diversity initiatives, including mandatory cultural competency training for full-time faculty and staff with leadership from the Committee on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access, or the IDEA Committee. Since 2015, IDEA has received $225,000 in diversity award funds from Texas A&M University. IDEA also introduced employee resource groups to support African American, Asian, Hispanic, female and LGBTQ cultures.

Starting in fall 2019, the college introduced Diversity & Inclusion Week, which features necessary dialogue among staff and faculty, along with related TedTalks and small-group discussions. The week culminates with diversity awards for select faculty, staff and students.

“We listened to our students, faculty and staff, and learned that to actuate our vision for a thriving, diverse environment, we needed to do more than simply meet matriculation and recruitment goals,” Wolinsky said. “We had to ensure that all our students, staff and faculty believed they belonged.”

The Gies Awards are named for biochemistry professor William J. Gies, a founder of the College of Dental Medicine at Columbia University. The awards honor individuals and organizations who set the highest standards for research and leadership in dental education and oral health.

— Kathleen Green Pothier