Why I Teach: Part 4

A look at the varying paths of some esteemed dental educators
April 20th, 2022

Texas A&M College of Dentistry’s faculty members are universally dedicated. With multiple career options, what motivates someone to become a dental school professor? Is it a purposeful process or an unexpected discovery? A visit with a few A&M dental school instructors yields a variety of journeys with one common realization: the incomparable rewards of working with students and guiding them to their academic goals. The following is Part 4 of a multi-part series.

Alejandra “Alex” Garcia

Alex Garcia portraitTwo years of working as a dental hygienist in Switzerland boosted Alejandra “Alex” Garcia’s appreciation of different cultures, foods and people. An apartment balcony overlooking Lake Lucerne for her daily cup of cappuccino was a dream come true.

Garcia learned of the opportunity during her senior year at the Caruth School of Dental Hygiene, when an alumna spoke to her class of 1997 as part of “Life After Baylor Day” at what is now Texas A&M College of Dentistry.

As an adjunct clinical professor in dental hygiene, Garcia urges her own Caruth students to be open to opportunities for adventure and to use their professional skills in varied ways.

“Be sure you enjoy life, because you’ll enjoy your profession all the more, too,” says Garcia, who recently celebrated 20 years on the faculty.

She prioritizes service and open-mindedness to diverse individuals and backgrounds in equal measure, volunteering on mission trips to Honduras and Guatemala and at community clinics and events in the Dallas area.

“I talk about all of this to my students all the time,” she says. “There’s a lot of needs out there. For me, it’s very fulfilling.”

She connected with teaching unexpectedly in 2001 following a call from Dr. Janice DeWald, then-director of the Caruth School of Dental Hygiene, who needed to replace a retiring instructor.

Garcia began overseeing dental hygiene students’ pediatric dentistry rotations to deHaro-Saldivar community clinic in Dallas while working in private practice with Dr. Greg Grave in Plano. Over the years her percentage of teaching gradually increased to four days weekly on the faculty and one day in private practice “to keep up my skills.”

In March 2021, she became a clinical dental hygienist in the college’s periodontics department, reducing her faculty role to two full days per week. Even her new clinical role is a teaching opportunity for students to see a faculty member performing the steps they’re teaching, she says.

Those moments when Garcia is standing by in clinic and overhears a student say something she communicated a semester before reinforces that they are listening and know when and how to apply what they’ve learned. She’s inspired by the students’ excitement about the learning process.

“They motivate me and I just want to keep the momentum going,” she says.

She also enjoys the camaraderie among the faculty, including some from back when she was in school.

“You never stop learning,” Garcia says. “The young folks bring a lot of interesting questions and ideas. That keeps it interesting. It really is great just watching what my students accomplish once they graduate.”

— Carolyn Cox