Joy Wang, DMD95, MPH95, arrived at Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) at the age of twenty-two. Having grown up in California and attended the University of California, Davis, for her undergraduate studies in biochemistry, the young dental student was thousands of miles from her home, family and everything familiar.
“I was super homesick my first year, ” Wang said.
During her first few weeks at HSDM, Walter Guralnick, DMD41, professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery, took her under his wing.
“The first day of school he showed up in his little bowtie and said, ‘Hi, I’m going to be your mentor for the next five years,’” she recalled fondly.
Guralnick and his wife Betty would often invite Wang and other students to their home for dinner— a warm and welcoming gesture that made Wang feel she had found a home away from home.
“His door was always open. He was always there for me,” she said.
When Betty passed away in 2010, Wang knew it was time for her to return the favor. She started talking with Guralnick about establishing a scholarship at HSDM with the hope that getting him involved in the process would be a way to lift his spirits and involve him in the plan.
“I wanted to give a gift in the spirit of everything I got from Harvard,” she said. “I asked him, what would be a meaningful gift to the School?”
After a few years of planning, Wang pledged $100,000 to the School to establish the Walter and Betty Guralnick Scholarship, a fund to support future generations of predoctoral students. The timing coincided with Guralnick’s 100th birthday—Wang’s gift to her cherished mentor and to HSDM.
“Walter Guralnick had a profound impact on his students and all those who surrounded him. Joy is someone who exemplifies his teaching, mentorship and values. Her decision to give a gift that will honor his legacy and give back to students is extremely generous and very much in the spirit of Walter’s kindness and generosity,” said Dean Bruce Donoff, DMD67, MD73. The Dean and his wife Mady made a generous gift to the Scholarship as well.
“I’m hoping the Scholarship will honor his legacy long after he’s gone,” Wang said. Guralnick passed away in September of 2017, but his memory continues to serve as an inspiration to Wang and many other HSDM alumni. Not only did Wang become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon like her mentor, but she emulates his values too.
“He set an example of service and giving back to the community,” said Wang. During her years as a student, Guralnick encouraged her to pursue travel fellowships that led her to serve in Vietnamese Detainee Camps in the South China Sea, and to Hanoi for work in an Oral Maxillofacial Surgery hospital.
The importance of giving back still resonates with her. While Wang now has a busy oral surgery practice in Sunnyvale, California, she recently traveled to Bangladesh for ten days on a mission to perform cleft palate surgeries with Smile Bangladesh, a nonprofit led by HSDM alumni Shahid Aziz, DMD96 and Jose Marchena, DMD96.
“It’s the best of both worlds giving back to the community and working with HSDM classmates again,” Wang said. She plans to make volunteerism part of an annual trip with her classmates. While they live at opposite ends of the country, they keep in touch regularly.
“The people that you meet at HSDM become your lifelong friends,” she said.