The mantra “pay it forward,” lies at the heart of the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) chapter of the Student National Dental Association (SNDA).
Rooted in the idea that kindness inspires reciprocity—in school and throughout the Baltimore community, the mantra is a winning philosophy. In July, the organization won the National Dental Association’s (NDA) Chapter of the Year honors—for the second consecutive year. The 2017 award was presented during the NDA annual convention held July 19-23 in Dallas, Texas.
The NDA is a professional association of minority dentists initially formed in 1913, and is the largest association of its type in the world. The NDA’s primary mission is to extend dental treatment and education to impoverished, disabled or minority populations.
The “pay it forward” process begins the moment students arrive at school and chapter members work to ensure all newcomers feel welcome and supported throughout their time at dental school, according to Tiffany Otto, president of the UMSOD SNDA chapter. “We wanted to make sure everyone was starting school with a solid support system. Once people understood this, everyone was really excited to get involved, and we realized that we also could meet the demands of the Baltimore community because we had the man power."
The NDA choses the Chapter of the Year winner based upon how successful each chapter is in fundraising, community service, and new initiatives. How each chapter executes three national programs is also assessed: impressions day, in which pre-dental undergraduate students visit dental schools to learn about the experience from DDS students, holiday canned food drive, and an oral cancer walk.
In 2017-18, the UMSOD SNDA raised the bar by heightening its community building efforts through several new initiatives. One new event was the Taste Bud Tour, during which all cultural groups on campus were invited to share their cuisines. “UMSOD is very diverse, and that’s what I love about the school,” says Otto, “the event was a great way to build stronger relationships between us.”
A second new initiative, Generation NeXT, provided opportunities for UMSOD students to mentor high school students at the Vivien Thomas Medical Arts Academy. Vivian T Mentees are already trained by their school to become dental assistants. SNDA mentors however, worked to inspire the high school students to pursue DDS or dental hygiene degrees. “We wanted to maintain their interest in the dental field all while encouraging them to aim higher ” says Otto, “Students tried on white coats and looked in our ‘ motivation mirror’ to visualize a different version of themselves—- as future dentists.”
SNDA members also excelled at planning and implementing the national programs, particularly the Oral Cancer Walk. This year, the SNDA raised $19,445 and received a letter of recognition from the Oral Cancer Foundation for having “one of the best events in the nation.”
Nonetheless, says Otto, the UMSOD SNDA’s support system is its most important component. Whether through assistance with lab courses, “wax and relax” sessions to help with dental anatomy class, or a safe forum in which to communicate about issues outside of dental school, the SNDA clearly has created a giving environment and motivated its members to return the favor to each other along with the surrounding community.