Three key pillars
Dean Lily T. García is a whirlwind of positive energy with big plans for the future of Texas A&M University School of Dentistry. Since she took the reins in October 2022, she’s provided stability to the school and boosted morale with a people-centered approach to projects and the day-to-day operation of the campus.
García, who recently received tenure from the Texas A&M Board of Regents, has a laser-focused plan for growth, and it’s based on three key pillars of improvement.
“It all comes back to talent, culture and facilities,” García said. “They all play into each other and off each other.”
Knowing facilities factor into first impressions for prospective students and impact daily operations for current students, faculty and staff, significant renovations are planned for the school’s Administrative and Education Building, previously referred to as the Main Building. By August of 2025, the school’s research enterprise is scheduled to be located on the third floor, where clinics were held before construction of the modern Clinical Education Building.
“That is the biggest motivator – locating all of our researchers on one floor,” she said. “The office adjacencies will help build a more collaborative spirit. In this day and age, research isn’t in isolation; it’s a multifaceted project.”
Upcoming renovations will also move all student support services onto the first floor of the AEB. This includes recruitment and admissions, student development and other leadership positions. Currently, offices that often require lots of intercommunication and collaboration are spread out in the building. Putting people together on the same floor will improve communication and having these particular offices on the first floor will create a more welcoming environment for visitors when they first enter the building.
At this time, leadership is exploring plans to make the first-floor entrance on Gaston Avenue Americans with Disabilities Act compliant, and new wayfinder signage will be added throughout campus to better aid visitors.
García said the renovations are about efficiency and building a stronger culture of collaboration amongst faculty and staff. Improved culture ensures people better enjoy their workplace, and it attracts new talent.
“The key thing is rethinking student space, making a more unified space where they can gather,” García said. “Bringing people together, that’s the foundation of what we want to do here. You bring in great talent, you shift our culture, and then those facilities start to bring everyone together in a more collaborative spirit.”
Garcia said one of the most challenging aspects of strengthening campus culture is understanding the relationship between the dental school and the Texas A&M Health Science Center, as well as Texas A&M University. A&M is in the midst of a centralization process, intending to build efficiencies and streamline communication among and between all the departments and campuses, while making sure public messaging is consistent. García recognized this process has been stressful for some, but she also noted there is a lot of support from the university and the Health Science Center as these changes take place. She said while the process can be confusing at times it’s going to lead to bigger and better things long term. Plus, it’s similar to her own schoolwide goals of improving talent, culture and facilities, just on a larger scale.
“The resources the university provides are phenomenal,” García said. “There are benefits of working within a flagship university. Our challenge is the geographic distance, so we need to make strategic investments and take responsibility to help them understand us better. Part of the burden is on us; we have to convey our value. We operate a dental hospital. What does that mean? It helps people understand our operations are very different from straight classroom teaching.
“We are making progress, and leaders and colleagues at the university are expressing their understanding around the unique challenges of the dental school,” she said.
As García fosters improved culture, she’s also focused on attracting new talent, as well as retaining current employees. García said data-driven salary studies are ongoing, to better ensure Texas A&M University School of Dentistry is offering competitive wages for faculty and staff, as well as wages to meet the cost of living in Dallas. They are also “carefully considering” requests for alternate work location and remote work options for employees in eligible positions, she added.
“I’ve been spending time meeting with a lot of people,” she said. “Faculty leaders, educators, researchers, staff and just listening to what they’ve experienced in the last four years. I’m surrounded by some extremely talented individuals, and they’ve shown a high level of professionalism to continue even through stressful times. Thank you to everyone for being so welcoming to me. We’re all trying to work through a lot of different processes.”
Overall, the school is in a very strong place right now, she said, and in a perfect position to make new changes for advancing the mission. She understands the school has been through some tumultuous changes in its recent history, but there will be a concerted effort to involve others where possible as we continue to make adjustments and improvements.
“We have a path; we know the direction we’re headed,” she said. “I’m amazed and proud of the progress this institution has made over the years. Even in the middle of all these changes, they – all our stakeholders – are at the top of their game. If you’ve never been anywhere else, you don’t know how good you are.”