New MMSc Program Trains Future Leaders and Mentors in Dental Education

May 24, 2018
Erinne Kennedy
Dr. Kennedy discusses her research with Dean Donoff

When Erinne Kennedy, MMSc2019, PD18 was growing up in Middleport, Ohio, she never imagined someone from her hometown of 2,500 people—let alone herself—would become the first of anything at Harvard. Kennedy recently became the first post-doctoral student in Harvard School of Dental Medicine’s MMSc in Dental Education Program.

“It’s such an honor,” Kennedy said. “If there’s another student in small town America and they see me and say, ‘how do I get there?’ I’m more than happy to pave the way and be a mentor to them.”

The path that led Kennedy to Harvard started with principles instilled by her parents. Her dad Dr. Larry Kennedy, a dentist, and mom Theresa, a dental hygienist, set an early example by giving back to the local community.

“My dad probably did not think of himself as a public health dentist, but he and my mom were very involved in dental health programs for kids in the local schools, and trying to improve the overall health of the community,” Kennedy said.

When Kennedy was in high school, the family traveled to the Dominican Republic to volunteer with an organization providing healthcare in orphanages.

“I saw so many kids living in a situation where they didn’t receive preventive dental care,” she said. “And I saw similar issues growing up in rural America. That’s when it came full circle for me. I fell in love with public health dentistry.”

After completing her undergraduate degree in Biology at The Ohio State University, she went on to Nova Southeastern University to pursue her DMD and MPH degrees. It was there she met Dean Linda Niessen, DMD77, MPH77, PD82.

“Dean Niessen became my mentor,” Kennedy said. “She is amazing. We hit it off instantly. She has this ability to learn from the past and implement innovations in the present; to set students up for an audacious future.”

Kennedy Alaska
Dr. Kennedy studied disparities in access to clean drinking water in rural Alaskan communities
With Niessen’s encouragement, Kennedy applied to HSDM’s Dental Public Health residency and was accepted into the program last summer. Soon after starting the program, Kennedy went to Alaska with Brittany Seymour, MPH11, assistant professor of oral health policy and epidemiology, to attend a conference by Water Innovations for Healthy Artic Homes. There she learned about the disparities in access to clean drinking water and how factors such as climate change, and sanitation impact rural Alaskan communities and their oral health. She’s hoping to pursue funding opportunities for a program that could create online public health curriculum.

“My goal is to be able to utilize Harvard resources to serve a community, because that’s what public health is all about—service, and enabling change from the community level up.”

When she learned that HSDM would offer a new specialty in dental education she jumped at the opportunity to apply for the program.

“I’ve always loved teaching and seeing people grow. When the opportunity came to take my education to the next level I said, ‘sign me up.’”

She will finish her dental public health residency this spring. Several of the credits will apply to her MMSc degree. She’s already learning about dental education pedagogy with program director Sang Park, MMSc01, PD01, and will have the chance to take elective courses at the Harvard School of Graduate Education.

As for her ultimate goal, Kennedy said, “I would be honored to be a dean of a dental school like Linda Niessen someday. To be a part of student’s lives the way she’s been a part of mine and other students would be a phenomenal life experience.”

Learn more about HSDM's Advanced Graduate Education programs