HSDM's Diversity and Inclusion Efforts Recognized with National Award

August 15, 2019
Bridge to Dental School workshop

For the second year in a row, Harvard School of Dental Medicine has been honored with an Inspiring Programs in STEM Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. The Award honors colleges and universities nationwide that encourage and assist students from underrepresented groups to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

"We've created exciting pipeline programs on campus and have reached hundreds of students, but to truly expose talented students to HSDM, we also need to take HSDM to where they reside and study,” said Josephine Kim, former Director of Diversity and Inclusion.

This year’s Diversity and Inclusion programming did just that by expanding HSDM’s ability to reach students from underrepresented minority backgrounds within the greater Boston area and beyond.

Building a Bridge to Dental School

This summer, 30 undergraduate college students from the greater Boston area completed a 10-week Bridge to Dental School program held on the Longwood campus that was designed to help them apply to dental school. The program was organized and taught by HSDM predoctoral students, many of whom are Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Fellows.

Bridge to Dental School students
Bridge to Dental School students
Organizers Ashwini Parchure, Laurel Fuentes and Aida Shadrav, 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.

“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,” said Parchure.

Participants in the free program received advice from the 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 hope to have a longitudinal relationship with the students, serving as their mentors,” said Shadrav.

Introducing HBCU Students to Dentistry

For the past two years, HSDM students and faculty have made recruitment trips to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to introduce undergraduate students to dentistry and share their experiences as minorities in dental school.

Aisha Ba, a third-year DMD student, and Dr. Brian J. Swann, assistant professor of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology, traveled to Morehouse College, Spelman College, Oakwood University and Howard University this spring. The year before, Jeffrey Taylor, now a fourth-year DMD student, made a similar trip.

Aisha Ba
Aisha Ba, third-year DMD student
“The reason I was so motivated to do this was that in order to solve most of the issues of access to care, and for HSDM to be a leader in integrating medicine and dentistry for the benefit of patients, we need to be training providers who come from and understand the issues in the communities that face the greatest burdens of disease,” said Ba. “Diversity improves dental care for everyone,” she added.

Ba, Taylor and Swann realized the HBCU students they met were often well qualified for admission into dental school but didn’t consider applying to Harvard thinking they wouldn’t fit in.

“At all the schools we asked them, ‘When you think of Harvard, what do you think of?’ They never considered seeing themselves here. It was important to talk with these students and reassure them that there is a place for them at Harvard and that Harvard has a warm and welcoming environment, and you can be successful here,” said Ba.

“We shared values, logistics and the responsibility of a healthcare provider coupled with the principles of Harvard to train leaders in a diverse environment,” said Swann. “I am hoping it will become a new model for HSDM that makes a positive impact by training a diverse group of oral health providers.”

Celebrating Diversity and Inclusion at HSDM

In April, HSDM celebrated its inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Week with an exciting lineup of events. The community heard from speakers on the topics of diversity and inclusion in dental education, race and gender equity in dentistry, and culturally competent, accessible care for patients with different needs in engaging talks offered throughout the week. There were also dynamic performances by dancers, drummers, and singers, as well as artwork, ethnic foods, and hands-on demonstrations celebrating diverse cultural traditions.

Perkins School presentation at Diversity and Inclusion week
Jaimi Lard and Christine Dwyer from Perkin's School for the Blind
“Presenting a Diversity and Inclusion Week is important because as clinicians we need to be providing culturally competent health care,” said Dr. Anne Koch former director of the postdoctoral program in Endodontics at HSDM, and supporter of the event. “Health disparities among diverse communities is both significant and very real. We need to do better as health care providers,” she added.
See also: Awards, Diversity