The path to a career in dentistry isn’t always clear when you don’t know the first steps to take. It can be particularly challenging for first generation college students or students from underrepresented minority backgrounds who may not have a mentor in the profession. A new “Bridge to Dental School” pipeline program designed by Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) students through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) aims to change that.
Starting in June, thirty undergraduate college students from the greater Boston area will begin a 10-week program designed to help prepare them apply to dental school. The students who registered for the free program will receive advice from HSDM students on every aspect of getting into dental school—from what to expect in a dental curriculum and tips on taking the Dental Admission Test (DAT) to writing a personal statement and interviewing for admission.
“We want to bridge the gap by providing resources for students since we went through the process ourselves in recent years. We hope to have a longitudinal relationship with the students, serving as their mentors,” said Aida Shadrav, a second-year DMD student and Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Fellow.
Shadrav and fellow students Laurel Fuentes and Ashwini Parchure, also D&I Fellows at HSDM, promoted the program to community colleges and four-year universities with the hope of reaching students from diverse and/or low-income backgrounds. They received interest not only from students in Boston but from around the country.
“The response for this pilot program has been overwhelming due to its comprehensive focus. Students will not only learn hard sciences but will receive practical guidance on the entire application process,” said Josephine Kim, director of ODI. “In essence, the program will augment the social capital of attendees.”
For Laurel Fuentes, the idea came from her own experience of coming from a community college in California. “When I started community college, I had no intention of going into dental school, but there was a summer program at UCLA for medical/dental education scholars that completely changed the course of what I wanted to do,” she said.
In the summer program, she shadowed dental and medical students, learned study skills, curriculum components and how to take standardized tests. “Not everyone can afford to take expensive test prep courses, and I’m really happy that we can provide an opportunity for students who may not have the resources to attend a formal prep program,” Fuentes said.
The courses will be taught on Saturdays from 9am-12:30pm with HSDM students serving as instructors. As the program gets off the ground, Ashwini Parchure, a key organizer and D&I Fellow, has high hopes for its success, "We’re aiming to level the playing field and enable students who are passionate about dentistry but may not readily have access to the resources or connections to pursue dental school. This program’s goal is to literally build a bridge to dental school for those students."