Promoting leadership through Great Expectations: Q&A with Dr. Niekia Franklin ’15

June 18th, 2015

Dr. Niekia Franklin in the college's Simulation LaboratoryAt its core, the Great Expectations program forges connections to help new students embrace the sense of purpose and pride associated with the dental profession. For some mentors, it also works as a conduit to mobilize new student leaders within Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry.

“It wasn’t until I got to college that I learned about what a white-collar life looked like, how to really study, and the types of amazing things people were accomplishing. I learned this because I had countless phenomenal mentors; they were kind, patient and also humble,” says Dr. Niekia Franklin ’15, who begins a pediatric dentistry residency at Indiana University School of Dentistry this summer. “I love any opportunity to pay that invaluable mentorship forward to others.”

During her first year of dental school, Franklin — like all dental  students — was automatically enrolled in the Great Expectations mentoring program, which meant she had a built-in group of upperclassmen, alumni and practicing dentists to turn to with successes and uncertainties. Franklin didn’t just soak up these experiences and keep them to herself. Instead, she passed on that sense of leadership to underclassmen when she became a mentor during her third and fourth years in dental school. There was an unexpected benefit, too: An avid community volunteer, Franklin helped create several student-run oral health initiatives during her time at TAMBCD and, through relationships formed from the Great Expectations program, effectively rallied future student leaders to those causes.

Your approach to mentoring dental students: With Great Expectations a lot of it was figuring out what each student wanted from the program. There are students from so many backgrounds, so I talked to anyone interested in pediatrics or orthodontics, or even just wondering about balancing schoolwork with a new pet (Yi Yang ’15 and I adopted a corgi-spaniel mix during our first year of dental school). My approach to mentoring was to offer as many opportunities as I could — tutoring, service, time to vent — and my biggest challenge was to balance waiting until they asked for advice and gauging just how much to give, be it during a lunch meeting with Great Expectations mentees to review notes or popping down to demo shining a wax rim.

As a dental student, you weren’t just involved in Great Expectations, but you initiated service opportunities, including the first TAMBCD student-run Give Kids a Smile event as well as the Student Run Evening Clinic at North Dallas Shared Ministries. How did you rally your mentees to participate in these causes? Great Expectations provided an amazing opportunity for me, as a leader, to find the next leaders early. First year, we were all swamped with classes, and although it was easy to volunteer, it was harder to actually get leadership positions. Through mentoring with Great Expectations, I met several first-year students who were inclined towards leadership and was able to get them thoroughly involved behind the scenes and primed to take larger roles earlier in dental school (i.e. second year versus third). I am ecstatic to have co-directors and committee members for student-run events like Give Kids a Smile, Special Olympics: Special Smiles, and the Student Run Evening Clinic at North Dallas Shared Ministries from my past Great Expectations groups.

What it means to you to “do the right thing,” specifically in regard to the last four years of your life in dental school: Dr. C. Moody Alexander always tells the story about stepping into the school with your right foot forward. To me, “doing the right thing” is definitely a choice you make before you enter the door. This could mean helping a classmate understand the material versus having an extra hour of studying for yourself, spending an extra two hours on a denture wax up even though you know it would already get checked off, volunteering instead of sleeping in, or standing up for what you believe is right. One thing for which I am most grateful to Great Expectations is the opportunity to learn from some of the most caring and ethical dentists, like Dr. Moody and Dr. Gannaway, lending their ears and insights throughout this process of becoming a dentist.

— Jennifer Fuentes