So What Do You Think of the Big Move?

By Kathleen Barrows

In the words of Student Body President Greg Gardner, Class of 2012, “In its 116-year history, the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry has been like a living document, modifying to meet the needs of its patients and its students.” It goes without saying that the purchase and building of the new dental school, which will open in 2014, is a bold step forward in the school’s evolution.

So what does the “dentist on the street” think of the big move? We interviewed people representing the past, the present and the future of the dental school—alumni, faculty, outgoing and incoming students—to find out their thoughts.

Excitement, sometimes mixed with nostalgia, were the emotions that predominated. Nearly everyone heaved a communal sigh of relief about having better parking options and recognized that the school has outgrown its present location. And all anticipated a spacious and modern clinic space that would allow for enhanced patient care as well as better teaching and learning in an environment more representative of real-life dental practice settings.

But each person, reflecting his or her individual and professional histories, had unique thoughts about what the move would mean. Here’s what they had to say.

Dr. Jack Saroyan ’62 – A Pioneer Looking Forward

“I never thought I’d live to see another dental school built,” admits Dr. Jack Saroyan. And he should know. He can still picture the special spade used at the groundbreaking in Pacific Heights, which he and his wife attended in 1967.

Saroyan remembers well the wooden building at 14th and Mission Streets across from the armory, which served as the school’s home from 1923 to 1962. “The clinics were like those in a horror movie, with the equipment all black and rows of dental chairs.” Those were the days when dental students didn’t even touch patients until their second year.

“Now, we’re going to be the new showplace.”
– Dr. Jack Saroyan ’62

The long-time assistant professor, who retired from his 44-year San Francisco dental practice in 2006, understands why the school needs to move beyond its present site. And he’s especially excited about all the new equipment and the additional square footage in the new clinic design. He also looks forward to more research into areas like bone regeneration. “Now, we’re going to be the new showplace.”

For those like himself who might be concerned with security issues, he points out that there will be three entrances—one for the students and faculty, one for the patients and a third for people going to other parts of the building.

Getting a new building up and running won’t be easy, Saroyan realizes. As he puts it, “Transitions are always difficult,” especially when the move must happen during the one-month summer break in June 2014. But he’s confident that with proper planning, it can be done. As for funding, Saroyan points out that the sale value of the parking lot and building on the present site is a great asset. And he’s counting on the generosity of alumni, who responded so well to the last capital campaign, to come through again as he has.

Ms. Lauren Powell, Class of 2015 – Envisioning a Better Chance to Serve Patients

Lauren Powell knew she wanted to become a dentist since age 12. That was when she got her first braces—as she describes them, “shiny wires, pink bands, the works!”—and loved them. Even earlier, at the age of eight, she had jumped at the job of turning the tiny key on the rotating wheel of her older brother’s palatal expander. Now, as a member of the first class that will graduate from the new campus, her dream is a reality.

Under the mentorship of Dr. Bruce Valentine ’69, her beloved family dentist in Modesto, California, who “opened her eyes to the world of dentistry,” Powell attended Pacific Pride Day at the age of 17 and enrolled in the accelerated dental honors program at the University’s Stockton campus. She’s elated to have been invited to speak at the recent groundbreaking by Associate Dean for Institutional Advancement Craig Yarborough ‘80.

“It will be better for patients as well as students.”
– Ms. Lauren Powell, Class of 2015

Powell says she’s feeling privileged that she’ll be involved in the big move, and her “biggest excitement is the restructuring of the entire clinic to implement the idea of actual general practice in real life.” The present system of four group practice administrators (GPAs) will increase to eight practice leaders (PLs), so that there will be closer support and monitoring of the students in the clinic setting, with adjacent seminar rooms for discussions.

And, she emphasizes, “It will be better for the patients as well as the students.” Right now many patients don’t live in the area, and parking and transportation are real issues. The new location will mean a shorter journey to receive treatment. After all, she says, “we’re there to serve them,” and that’s what she plans to do.

As Powell puts it, “I know this is a university that will not only teach me how to be a great dentist, but a great person as well.”

Dr. Binh Dao ’07 – Letting Go of Nostalgia

For Dr. Binh Dao ’07, the present campus holds a lot of memories. He’ll always remember, from his first tour of the school, the magnificent view from the top of the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown and the Bay. And later he’d discover that there was “a cool little neighborhood sandwich shop where the lady knew everyones’ names.”

His classmates would sit in the same seats that other family members had occupied as dental students a generation before. Binh himself, whose father immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1980, has a cousin who inspired his own decision to attend the dental school.

“I’m excited to see how a school will be started from scratch.”
– Dr. Binh Dao ’07

And then, of course, it was here that he met his wife, Dr. Alexis Lyons ’07. They were married this past September, with more than 40 classmates and their significant others present at the wedding. The two now have their respective practices in the Sacramento area.

After speaking with both Dean Patrick J. Ferrillo, Jr. and Associate Dean Craig Yarborough about his initial concerns two years ago, he realizes that it was the “nostalgic part” of him that was getting in the way. “As a student you don’t realize you’ve outgrown an old building,” he says. It’s more “economically smart to buy and build the way you want” rather than remodel an aging structure. Besides, he asks, where would the students have gone during the renovations?

Most importantly, Dao is impressed with how the dean has planned for the future in a rapidly evolving technological world. “I’m excited now to see how a school will be started from scratch,” and he’s confident that whatever happens, it will be an improvement on an already great school. “Dean Ferrillo is taking the school in a forward direction, and that’s what’s important.”

Dr. Judee Tippett-Whyte ’86 – Hoping to Enhance Continuing Education

As a former president of the Alumni Association, Dr. Judee Tippett-Whyte ’86 is well aware of all the effort and planning that has gone into the move to the new campus. And she was thrilled to be present at the January 18 groundbreaking, where she witnessed the excitement of the University regents as well.

She sees the move as a potential boon to the school’s continuing education program. The CDA Presents fall meeting happens annually at the Moscone Center, right around the corner from the new site. This could mean a collaboration with the CDA—an organization she’s been actively involved in since 1986—using the new clinic for some of the hands-on sessions to bring in revenue and showcase the school.

Having come from the “era of long bench labs,” Tippet-Whyte is very appreciative of the new clinic design, with its feel of a group practice. It will be more practical and “help the students learn the business side of dental practice, something which has always been a challenge.”

“Any move is bittersweet.”
– Dr. Judee Tippett-Whyte ’86

She’s also convinced that the much-improved parking situation and accessibility to public transportation will make it much easier to attract patients to help ensure a well-rounded clinical education for students. The South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood represents a “hub of activity,” which will bring in a younger population to use the school.

Any move is bittersweet. Tippett-Whyte and her husband, Pacific Director of Events Steve Whyte, have many happy memories of their early married life in student housing, in a building which even had a lab. But it was “an added perk,” and not something that she feels would impact anyone’s decision to attend the dental school.

Of this she’s sure: “The advantages of the new site will far outweigh the disadvantages of losing the student housing.”

Mr. Greg Gardner, Class of 2012 – Moving into the 21st Century

Greg Gardner, Class of 2012, is quick to admit, “I’m jealous—jealous of the newness and the firsts that will happen at the new school.” His concern is that some students may forget “how great we already have it here” and he feels the new campus will only “launch us further from the reach of other schools.”

“Our shoes and clothes are getting tight.”
– Mr. Greg Gardner, Class of 2012

It was the inspiration and mentorship of Dean Emeritus Arthur A. Dugoni ’48 and other administrators who helped Gardner step out of his comfort zone to become student body president. After graduating, he will participate in a one-year, postgraduate residency in general practice in Mississippi, pursue a private practice for 10 to 15 years and then begin a gradual return to academia.

Gardner recognizes that “our shoes and clothes are getting tight.” Larger gatherings of the school—in both good times to make important announcements and sad times to mourn a lost colleague—have been limited by space constraints. And he definitely won’t miss the lines in the clinics for both space and supplies.

Being an older student, who left behind a short career as a chemical engineer, Gardner appreciates that the new space will allow for what he calls “a greater variety of learning skills and styles,” from lectures to hands-on learning. He realizes that from the students’ perspective there may be worries about housing and a change in neighborhood, but “ultimately it’s about the patients and the care we provide.”

“This is a timely and much-needed step for the Dugoni School of Dentistry to go into the 21st century and build a new dynasty.”

Kathleen A. Barrows, an East Bay freelance writer, is a contributor to Contact Point.