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World Classes: Our International Dental Studies Program turns 30

By Louise Knott Ahern

It was just one of Dr. Dugoni’s crazy ideas. He laughs about it now, but that’s how Dr. Arthur A. Dugoni ’48, dean emeritus, recalls the reaction he got more than 30 years ago when he proposed that the dental school create a program for internationally educated students.

He envisioned a program in which dental professionals from other countries could advance their learning and clinical expertise while earning a degree in the United States alongside domestic DDS students. When Dugoni suggested the idea during his tenure as dean, however, some faculty and staff members expressed concerns. How much would it cost? How would professors deal with the language differences? Would the international students meet the same educational standards as domestic students?

Dugoni eventually managed to alleviate concerns, and the International Dental Studies (IDS) program was born with Dr. Robert Gartrell ’74A, former assistant dean of Community Dentistry, Continuing Education and International Dental Studies, serving as the program’s first leader in 1987. Today, the IDS program prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2017. The program currently averages 600 to 800 applicants every year for its 24 coveted spots. And our 375 IDS graduates represent more than 50 countries around the globe.

This two-year, accelerated program enrolls 24 students in July of each year. The full-time, five-day-a-week program consists of eight quarters of education. The curriculum, encompassing academic, laboratory and clinical training, takes place at the Dugoni School of Dentistry and other clinical sites in Northern California. IDS students begin clinical patient care in the second quarter and spend the greater portion of their second year in clinical practice. Graduates of the IDS program receive a doctor of dental surgery degree and are eligible to sit for any state or regional dental board exam in the country.

Dugoni couldn’t be happier about the program’s progressive success. “The entire institution is extremely proud of the IDS program,” Dugoni said. “We love our students from various parts of the world who come here. We’ve had quite a few graduates return to their countries and distinguish themselves as deans or chairman of departments, and because we were so successful at it, we became a role model for other schools starting international programs.”

Filling a Need

Dugoni served on the board of the FDI World Dental Federation, an international association of dental professionals, for numerous years. As part of his involvement with FDI, Dugoni traveled around the world—an experience that exposed him not only to the vast differences in dental training and resources, but also to a great need for sharing knowledge. “I began to realize we don’t have all the answers,” Dugoni recalled. “We’re leaders in many areas, but it struck me that there could be a two-fold benefit if we brought international dentists to our dental school. We could learn from them while they would learn from us.”

Dental school administrators also learned from University of Southern California and its Advanced Standing Program for International Students that began in the 1960s and used that knowledge to take the Dugoni School of Dentistry’s IDS program to the next level.

But there was another motivation for the IDS program, as well. Foreign-trained dentists could not—and still cannot—practice in the United States without earning a license here. Currently, that means immigrants and foreign-trained dentists who come to this country can attend and graduate from a program at an accredited dental school and sit for a license exam.

“In the state of California, even if they have had years of experience in practice, internationally-educated dentists cannot practice in the United States unless they obtain a DDS degree in this country and take board exams,” said Dr. Patricia King, assistant professor and director of the IDS program, who has been a part of the IDS team for 26 years.

“Many IDS students are aware of this when they arrive in the country,” King said. Others may not find out until they get here. Either way, the IDS program offers individuals the opportunity to receive a dental education in the United States while expanding their dental skills and knowledge.


More than 135 languages and dialects are now spoken at the dental school.


“We’ve had people come in who have worked as dentists in their native countries for 12, 15, 17 years, and some who just graduated a couple of years ago,” King said. “IDS students are in a different social culture in the United States, and a new educational environment, thus making the learning experience a little more stressful than that of American students. There are a lot of variables IDS students must overcome. I admire them.”

Assistant Professor Roberto Masangkay ’89 remembers clearly the way he felt when he came to the Dugoni School of Dentistry from the Philippines to enroll in the first IDS class. After earning a dental degree and training at the University of the East, School of Dentistry in the Philippines, he was attracted to Dugoni School’s state-of-the-art clinical programs and educational methods. But, like many students, Masankay felt nervous walking into class the first day.

“It was a bit intimidating and almost as if I was going to school for the first time again,” said Masangkay. “I was surrounded by smart people of diverse backgrounds coming from all over the world and I thought to myself, ‘How will I compete?’ But it was great to have all this uniqueness and my fellow students were supportive. We bonded well.”

Staff and faculty members are integral to helping IDS students with the cultural differences when they arrive. There is even a course in the first quarter, led by King and Dr. Bruce Peltier, devoted entirely to helping IDS students acclimate to the Dugoni School of Dentistry.

“The program brings in other faculty and students to help the IDS students integrate into the school,” said Dean Nader Nadershahi ’94. “Our DDS students and leaders in the student body have been increasingly collaborative during the last 20 to 30 years to do more to involve IDS students in their activities and programs and make them feel welcome.”

Melting Pot

The IDS program has proven to be a benefit not only for international students, but also to the community and the Dugoni School of Dentistry at large.

“One of the greatest values is the diversity and experience the IDS students bring to the student body,” said Nadershahi. “We hear from our DDS students that they learn so much from these students who are older and have practice experience and life experiences outside the United States. It broadens the foundation for all our students.”

More than 135 languages and dialects are now spoken at the dental school. That’s an asset to patients who find it easier to communicate when seeking dental care in the Dugoni School’s community clinics and who are more likely to trust a dentist who speaks their language, according to Dr. David Nielsen ’67, retired associate dean for the IDS program.

“San Francisco is a melting pot,” Nielsen said. “We have always had patients come in who are not fluent in English. Fortunately, our students can communicate with these different ethnic and cultural groups. But at first, it raised a great deal of frustration on the part of some of the faculty members because students would be talking to patients in their native tongue, and faculty members wouldn’t be able to understand what was being said. Yet, we finally got across to them that if patients can only communicate in their native tongue, then our ability to provide that communication is an asset.”

The melting-pot atmosphere also invigorates the student body, said Dr. Sarwat Zaffer, president of the IDS Class of 2018, who received her first dental degree in India. “In our current cohort, we represent 12 different countries,” she said. “It’s interesting to see different cultures come together. There is also age diversity among the IDS students. Our youngest student is 26, and oldest is 44. It’s good to have recent graduates as well as people with years of dental experience.”

The strong science background of the IDS students has also influenced the rest of the student body. Many IDS students have already completed graduate-level research by the time they enroll at the Dugoni School of Dentistry. Their passion for science has fostered a strong push among undergraduates to become involved in faculty-led research, Nielsen said.

“The foundation in the basic sciences is very strong for our international students,” Nielsen said. “Their interests and abilities have spilled over into our undergraduate DDS program. The students on their own have started study clubs and research groups because of the international students.”

Making A Difference

“The best measure of the IDS program’s success is its students and graduates,” said Nielsen. He recalls one graduate from Laos who settled in a small community near Fresno upon graduation. “Why there?” Nielsen asked him.

The graduate, Dr. Chanh Viet ’92 IDS , told him that the area had a large Hmong population working in agriculture, and he wanted to work with people from his own culture. A few years later, Nielsen spoke with the graduate again, and he was in awe of the impact the alumnus had been able to make in the community. “Because of his familiarity with the culture and his ability to speak the language, he started a fluoride mouth rinse program in the community schools, a sealant program and an educational program amongst the population,” Nielsen said. “He raised the level of dental prevention in the community as no one else could.”

[pullquote]The IDS program averages 600 to 800 applicants every year for its 24 coveted spots.[/pullquote]

The IDS program honors its diversity every year with an annual Bridge Builders event where all students, faculty and staff are invited to prepare meals from their native countries. Many also wear clothing that represents their cultures. “They open up the eyes of our young domestic students about the rest of the world,” Dugoni said. “There is a reciprocal richness.”

Though they represent a wide array of nations from around the world, most IDS graduates stay in the United States after graduation, according to King. “They pick up and come to the United States because they all want a better life. We are here to provide the education for them so they can work and provide for their families. They’re here to improve their lives.”

For Masangkay, that better life was right here. He was offered a teaching position in the school’s Department of Dental Practice upon graduation and passing the board exam, and he didn’t hesitate to accept. “It was such an honor to be asked and I could not pass up the opportunity to work with the best educators,” he said. “I have had good memories being part of this wonderful institution known for its excellent standing locally and internationally.”

Louise Knott Ahern, BA, is an award-winning journalist, fiction writer, editor and writing coach, and is the founder of LKA Publishing.

It’s All in the Family

A lifelong association with the Dugoni School family gives our #9 dean a very strong start.

Dr. Nader A. Nadershahi ’94, the new dean, remembers things. He remembers that the annual alumni-hosted Cioppino Dinner for entering first-year students began in 1991, the summer he matriculated. He remembers that Dr. Arthur Dugoni’s predecessor, Dr. Dale Redig, became dean only 14 years out of dental school. He even remembers that the dean in 1952 was Dr. Frank Inskipp. Nadershahi knows these things as comfortably as he knows the school’s current operating budget and its department heads. To say that the new dean knows the Dugoni School—its history, its patterns, its strengths, proclivities and quirks—is like saying Spielberg knows storytelling or Clapton knows blues.

“Proudly, Nader is one of us—he was born in and grew up in our dental family—[a product of] our humanistic model of education,” said Dean Emeritus Arthur A. Dugoni ’48 at a June 13, 2016, event honoring the new dean. “He is passionate about it, and he understands it is the engine that drives our greatness. He lives our core values and knows why they exist—he helped author them.”

“I’ve done almost everything here,” Dean Nadershahi admits, “from welcoming guests to taking out the trash. I’ve even been a patient.”

Nadershahi really did grow up with the Dugoni School. As a six- or seven-year-old newly arrived in San Mateo, California, before his family found a private dentist, he became a patient at the dental school’s Pediatric Dentistry Clinic on Webster Street; he returned as a teenager to the Oral Surgery Clinic to have his wisdom teeth removed.

Nadershahi was inspired to explore a career in dentistry when his older brother, Dr. Navid Nadershahi Knight ’89, entered dental school at the Dugoni School of Dentistry. As an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, studying integrative biology and visual arts, the dean remembers a visit from Navid, who, knowing Nader’s enthusiasm for sculpture, invited him to model a molar out of wax.

“It really piqued my interest,” he says.

[pullquote]“I’ve done almost everything here,” Dean Nadershahi admits, “from welcoming guests to taking out the trash. I’ve even been a patient.”[/pullquote]

Nadershahi became a part-time, pre-clinical instructor in his first year after completing his general practice residency at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Hospital. A year later he expanded into clinical teaching and soon became a course director and group practice administrator, then professor and chair of the Department of Dental Practice.  By the time he gave up private practice in 2010, Nadershahi was already associate dean for Academic Affairs and serving as acting dean.

“I liked practice,” he says. “I liked problem solving, and I liked helping people. The school just offers a bigger picture, a bigger way to make an impact.” Describing the impact dental school faculty and administration can have on students and the community, Nadershahi says, “I became excited about the opportunity to create an environment to inspire quality, ethical treatment.”

Nadershahi went on to earn two graduate degrees from University of the Pacific—a master’s degree in business administration and a doctorate in professional education and leadership—and assumed practically every administrative position possible at the dental school: associate dean, acting dean, executive associate dean and interim dean.

In fact, Nadershahi has achieved a first in the history of the dental school. Of three acting (temporary or transitional) deans, including Dr. Fred West in 1953, Dr. Leroy Cagnone in 1978 and Nadershahi in 2010—all alumni—only Nadershahi went on to assume the deanship on a permanent basis.

[pullquote]“Wouldn’t it be great to give 10 free tuitions?” he says.
“Can you imagine the impact?”[/pullquote]

“Nader is exceptionally well qualified to be dean,” Dugoni says, as if marking off a checklist for the ideal applicant. “He is very intelligent, hardworking and industrious. He has a strong capacity for emotional intelligence. His ethics and principles are at the highest level. He understands the principles of the multiplier. He makes people better and smarter.”

While his thoughtfulness makes him unassuming, Nadershahi is perhaps the most deeply connected, best-prepared entering dean in the school’s history. In getting to this place, he has absorbed, to an uncommon degree, the Dugoni School of Dentistry’s traditions, its ethos and its deeply ingrained sense of community.

“Nader understands the culture of the dental school,” Dugoni says. “He lives and breathes its humanistic and family model.”

Indeed, as Nadershahi said in remarks prepared for the dean’s search open forum on May 21, “Our humanistic culture is a defining characteristic that creates our sustainable competitive advantage. Culture eats strategy for lunch.”

Sitting in the lobby of the Hermosa Inn in Paradise Valley, Arizona, just before an alumni dinner, Nadershahi looks fresh and relaxed. Relaxed and engaged. Engaged and focused. He is wearing a gray suit, a pink shirt with an open collar and pink striped socks, as if to blend organization man integrity with an independent creative streak. He listens intently and speaks softly, with an enthusiasm bordering on urgency. He leans forward as he talks, briskly returning an anecdote, a memory, a connecting point of reference, tacking from what-is to what-if without a pause. He’s quick to smile. (“I promise,” he said in his open forum talking points, “to keep my sense of humor.”)

“I just read a book called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” he says. “It talks about what’s good in life, what’s better and what’s best. It’s about setting priorities, cutting out distractions and focusing on what’s really important.”

[pullquote]“Culture eats strategy for lunch.”[/pullquote]

Three broad priorities that Nadershahi has publicly identified are: 1) excellent educational experience, 2) excellent educational outcomes and 3) lower cost of education. In the service of those objectives, he has set out to strengthen ties and foster relationships.

“One of my challenges has been and will be to rebuild the sense of family in our school,” he said at the dean’s search open forum.

“We need to stay in touch with each other,” he says today.

By both training and temperament, Nadershahi is a unifier, a consensus builder.  He holds open office hours and fosters an informal monthly morning get-together called “Coffee with the Cabinet” to encourage dialogue among faculty, students and staff.

“Students, faculty, staff, alumni, the Foundation and fundraising groups,” he says, “are all connected organically.” He places himself, Dugoni-like, in a variety of settings that help him take the profession’s temperature. He is, for example, a delegate to the House of Delegates of both the American Dental Association and the American Dental Education Association, and he chaired the ADA Reference Committee on Education, Science and Related Matters.

Dean Nadershahi knows the numbers, knows the curriculum and knows the politics, but at heart his plan for moving the school forward depends on knowing the people. Alumni are particularly important. He’s conscious of his own status as an alumnus, of course, as well as that of his brother, his sister-in-law Nahid Fazeli-Knight ’97 and his wife, Nilou ’91. Nadershahi has planned a round of alumni visits, like this one to Phoenix, and to Los Angeles, San Diego, Stockton, Portland, Hawii, Marin, Seattle and Dallas.

We were thinking of calling these Dugoni Family Dinners,” he says. “People enjoy reconnecting, and I love hearing people reminisce. The stories may be different depending on who your faculty were, but the warmth is the same.”

The dean is a people person, affable and gregarious, and his native goodwill gets returned in spades. In Phoenix, alumni gather to greet him, forming a line in front of him like fans waiting for autographs. “Every step of the way,” he says of his ascent to the deanship, “people have been wonderful.”

As a teacher, Nadershahi is first a student, and he acknowledges the tutelage that informs his outlook. “I have two mentors,” he says. ”One is Art Dugoni. I watched Art. I took note of what he did that made him successful.” And the other? “My mom. Both Art and my mom care for others and help others achieve.”

Nadershahi aims to project that mindset forward. He is ambitious, but his is a collective ambition, the kind that mentors have for protégés, that parents have for their kids. The kind that casts a wide net.

[pullquote]Nadershahi is perhaps the most deeply-connected, best-prepared entering dean in the school’s history.[/pullquote]

“Internally, my role is to inspire students, faculty and staff to achieve more than they thought possible,” he says. “Externally, I connect with donors, organized dentistry and the community to help support the school and its educational mission.”

“He is ambitious first and foremost for our vision, our mission and our work—not for himself—and he has the will, the passion and experience to lead us, and to make good on that ambition,” said Dugoni. “Nader wants our school to be the best—it is in his DNA.”

Best, of course, is a moving target. “Most dental schools, like everything else in life, fall somewhere between mediocre and good,” Dugoni added. “Few are great—we are—but greatness is an inherently dynamic process, not an end point. Nader understands that!”

What’s more, the process itself involves less a continuous acceleration than the starts and stops of busy traffic. Sensitive leadership demands balance and timing. “You have to understand when to put your foot on the gas and when to coast for a while and let people catch their breath,” Nadershahi says.

The school is currently re-examining its clinical education model and competencies. “We are about to experience a historic transformation in health care,” Nadershahi said in the open forum. “Clinicians will be able to predict, prevent and treat disease before it impacts the quality of life.” Given those eventualities, he asks, where is dentistry going? What skills will our graduates need?

Recent advances are encouraging. The new graduate program in endodontics has graduated its first residents. The school recently announced two named endowed positions: Dr. Cindy Lyon became the first James R. Pride, DDS, and Carolyn L. Pride Endowed Chair for Practice Management, and Dr. Sheldon Baumrind the Dr. Arthur A. Dugoni Endowed Professor of Orthodontics. The clinic has become much more efficient, rendering more care for the community and a better experience for students.

But even an efficient clinic can be improved if the administration can develop ways to offset costs, perhaps through accessing medical reimbursements or attracting grants. “There aren’t many people in higher education,” Nadershahi concedes, “who understand that we are running the equivalent of our own hospital in the middle of a teaching program.” He would like to find money for scholarships; the high cost of education weighs heavily. “Wouldn’t it be great to give 10 free tuitions?” he says. “Can you imagine the impact?”

For the past 120 years, the Dugoni School of Dentistry has always offered very strong clinical training. “Clinical skills are a hallmark of our education,” the dean notes. Any calculation for the future has to preserve Pacific’s humanistic culture, its connection with people and its clinical excellence. But Nadershahi envisions a wider role. Dentists should be leaders in health care, in determining both how it’s rendered and how it’s compensated.

“Most people and institutions wait to see what will happen,” he says. “Rather, I would like us to take the lead in oral healthcare delivery. The challenge before us, the one that nags at me, is how the Dugoni School can become a leader. Our school should be shaping the future.”

[pullquote]Dentists should be leaders in health care, in determining both how it’s rendered and how it’s compensated.[/pullquote]

Ambition is a dance with the future. You know the moves, but your partner is moody and unpredictable. You take a step, and the future takes one of its own. You’re trying to lead, but you never know when the future will pull left just as you are sliding right. You never know when it will step on your toe. So every success brings a new challenge, every answer a fresh question—although some questions, it turns out, are one continuous loop. “I have to constantly ask myself, ‘How can I make dental education and the profession better? The students more prepared? The school more inviting?’” Nadershahi says.

High energy, careful planning, adaptability, sensitivity, a sharp memory, an agile imagination, a talented team and supportive alumni and friends: the new dean brings an impressive array of strengths to bear in moving the Dugoni School of Dentistry forward.

“The best way to predict the future,” he wrote to the Dean Search Committee when he applied for the job, “is to play a key role in shaping that future.” Every moment is an opportunity to change what lies ahead, and for Nader Nadershahi, every moment counts.

Eric K. Curtis ’85, DDS, of Safford, Arizona, is a contributor to Contact Point and is the author of A Century of Smiles, a historical book covering the dental school’s first 100 years.

The Art of Dentistry: Global Collaboration Brings Amazing World of Microscopic Photography to SF

Art and dentistry collided on August 12 as the dental school was transformed into a fascinating art gallery — a first for the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. Dental students, faculty, alumni, guests and exchange students from Peking Medical University, School of Stomatology gathered for a unique glimpse into the human body at the deepest levels. What they found was a colorful collection of images that gave them new appreciation for the sheer beauty of nature under the microscope.

As part of the “Art of Dentistry” showcase, large-format works of microscopic photography from a new book, Poetic Life by Dr. Tie Jun Li, were prominently displayed throughout the Dugoni School of Dentistry’s first floor. The exhibit featured 34 pieces of photography displayed around the themes of Genesis, Flourish, Succession and Harmony. A special darkroom gallery set up in Dorfman Hall featured a montage of photography digitally projected on the walls. Participants enjoyed the pieces while listening to music on wireless headphones.

The artist, Dr. Tie Jun Li, is an associate dean and professor of oral pathology at Peking Medical University, School of Stomatology in Beijing, China. His distinguished career in oral pathology has spanned three decades and he is considered a renowned expert in the field of odontogenic tumor research.

“As a pathologist, he is trained to assess the slides of blood vessels, teeth, muscle tissue and bone tissue with an objective, clinical eye. However, as a photographer, he appreciates the sheer beauty of nature under the microscope,” notes his artist statement. It’s his passion to artistically show these images and share them with the world.

“In fact, every cell has a story to tell, every molecule works a miracle,” remarked Li to Chang Jun, a writer with China Daily USA, who was on hand to cover the art show. “They are themselves very artistic and have waited thousands of years to be explored and to be appreciated.”

Dr. Tori Nan Xiao, a former student of Li’s nearly a decade ago in China and currently an associate professor of biomedical sciences at the Dugoni School of Dentistry, says Li works in a medium where science and art exist in harmony.

“Dr. Li aims to capture the beauty within ordinary structures,” said Xiao. “His artwork moves viewers to consider pain and dentistry not just as physical deterioration and disease, but as part of a larger whole in the context of life. Perhaps one of the most moving sentiments of Dr. Li’s photography is that in many ways, the images embody the spirit of dentistry as both a science of uncertainty and an art of probability.”

Explore the images

Student volunteers from the school’s Global Relations Club organized the event, with additional support facilitated by Dr. Colin Wong ’65, adjunct professor and Dugoni Foundation board member. The students, led by Richard Ly and Laura Tsu both from the Class of 2017, worked on designing the exhibition—everything from choosing, enlarging and framing the images to designing the invitation and program and determining where the images would be displayed in collaboration with the school’s Design & Photography team. “School leadership and the development office fostered the dream of helping to bring family together on campus,” said Ly. “Through a digitally enhanced dark room gallery and physical displays, we were able to innovate in our own way—on school grounds!” (Read Richard Ly’s related article in this same issue, “Reflections from a Student”)

“Through the association between the Dugoni School of Dentistry and Peking Medical University, School of Stomatology, I became friends with Dean Li,” said Wong. “The beauty of his microscopic photography of the cells of the oral tissues truly exemplifies the ‘art’ of dentistry. We are very glad that he accepted our invitation to exhibit his beautiful photographs.”

Dean Nader Nadershahi ’94 and Wong were on hand to welcome attendees and visitors from the community to the art exhibit. Special guests included Ren Faqiang, Chinese Deputy Consul General to San Francisco, who also gave remarks.

[pullquote]In fact, every cell has a story to tell, every molecule works a miracle. They are themselves very artistic and have waited thousands of years to be explored and to be appreciated.
— Dr. Tie Jun Li[/pullquote]

“It was an honor for the Arthur Dugoni School of Dentistry family to welcome our colleagues from China and share this special event,” said Dean Nadershahi. “The Dugoni School’s Global Initiatives program seeks to pool intellectual resources and the collective wisdom of partner dental schools and educators from across the globe. Our long-standing partnership with Peking Medical University, School of Stomatology is one example of how we build bridges with others.”

Established in 2012, the student exchange program between the two schools is designed to give Dugoni School students and their counterparts in China an opportunity to learn about dental education and culture in each other’s respective countries. Eight dental students from Peking Medical University finished a two-week exchange visit to the Dugoni School of Dentistry in August, as part of this partnership.

In fact, both Ly and Tsu travelled to China last year to participate in the student exchange program with the Peking Medical University and they met Dean Li, the artist, during their visit. “The humanism fostered from day one was really the epicenter of all this,” said Ly. “For us students, the exchange program in China provided an opportunity to bond with peers across cultures in search of broader perspectives.”

The goal of these exchange visits is to create opportunities to share knowledge and resources, and ultimately raise standards in dental education globally. In addition to its ties to Chinese dental schools, the Dugoni School of Dentistry continues to develop outreach, links and exchange programs with schools in Asia, the Caribbean, Oceania and the Middle East. The school also supports international dental mission trips to Fiji and Jamaica each year.

“More than ever in today’s increasingly global economy, institutions of higher education must prepare students to thrive in an international work force,” said University President Pamela Eibeck. “I applaud the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry and Peking Medical University School of Stomatology for facilitating many cross-cultural opportunities, including the Art of Dentistry event featuring the innovative and inspiring photography of Dr. Tie Jun Li.”

If you are interested in sponsoring a piece of Dr. Li’s artwork as a permanent showcase at the Dugoni School of Dentistry, please contact Anita Ayers, Dugoni Annual Fund manager, at 415.929.6402 or

Reflections from a Student

by Richard Ly, Class of 2017

As first-year students, finishing third quarter was the most difficult part of dental school thus far—and is considered our rite of passage. After our last final that quarter, I traveled to China with seven classmates for an exchange program in search of broader perspectives in dentistry. It was an adventure of a lifetime.

(See also “The Art of Dentistry: Global Collaboration Brings Amazing World of Microscopic Photography to SF” in this same issue)

Wide-eyed and foolish, we landed in Beijing, China, ready and excited for the unknown world of dentistry outside of Western parameters—the practice of dentistry as everything from caries to cancer of the oral maxillofacial regions are all treated under one roof of a hospital facility. By day, we saw surgeries, specialty clinics, radiology, general dentistry and research facilities. By night, all of Beijing beckoned with an irresistible charm.

One evening in particular, we found ourselves in a private dining room at Quanjude Roast Duck restaurant—the city’s premier Peking duck experience—hosted by Dr. Tie Jun Li, associate dean and professor of pathology at Peking Medical University, School of Stomatology.  It was somewhere between the laughs, cheers and perfectly crisp duck skins on sweet rice buns that a familiar magic took hold. It was humanism that brought us together over dinner where we first learned about Dr. Li’s passion for photography and work as an artist.

We received a call from Dr. Li’s assistant saying that there were packages for us at the front desk of the hotel. Eight copies of Poetic Life, Dean Li’s recent publication of dental themed microscopic photography, were left for us as parting gifts.

In August 2015, Peking Medical University sent a group of their own students to the Dugoni School of Dentistry. They lived with us as students and during the course of their stay we bonded and shared our exchange experiences. In passing, we mentioned that our biggest regret was not getting Dr. Li’s text from Poetic Life translated because we knew the images were much deeper if we could understand their scientific and artistic backgrounds. Before they left, the Chinese dental students surprised us with their own gift—the complete translated text of Dr. Li’s publication. We were thrilled!

Inspired by their kindness and the unique art of dental structures and pathology, we drafted a proposal for another collaboration between the Dugoni School and Peking Medical University. Dr. Colin Wong became our mentor and faculty facilitator who oversaw the project. From there, we had the amazing opportunity to work with dental school administration in digital design, marketing, development and building operations to put together the “Art of Dentistry” exhibit.

Faculty, staff, alumni, students, family and friends attended the exhibit and showed great support for the collaborative project, and we were thrilled to be involved. Dean Li’s presence at the event was a huge blessing and helped make the art gallery a dream come true. Through the “Art of Dentistry”, we were able to explore our passions for art, dentistry and community. Thank you to everyone for supporting us all the way through. At any other institution, this project would not have happened the way it did and for that, we as students are extremely grateful.

Building a Bright Future – Together

Dear Dugoni School family,

I cannot begin to describe the great honor, responsibility, excitement, joy and hope I feel since beginning my service as your dean. Being named the ninth dean of our great University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry is truly special.

Thank you to all of our alumni, friends, faculty, staff and students for the love and support you have shared with me as I transitioned to this position through the last year.  I am grateful for our wonderful Dugoni School family and, of course, for my immediate family.

To borrow from Sir Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In our 120-year history as a school, there have been many giants who have shaped who we are as a school, as oral healthcare providers and as leaders in our great profession.  Thanks to those of you who have served and continue to serve as giants for future generations, especially Dr. Arthur A. Dugoni who inspires and motivates all of us.

The challenges and opportunities ahead energize me. With your help, we will strengthen our culture of humanism, enhance our relentless focus on excellence in our programs and build an institution true to our commitment to excellence, respect, trust and integrity.

I believe in the Dugoni School family and that we will build a bright future for our great school, profession and alumni.  Please join me at our alumni gatherings and share your ideas about our school.

I look forward to seeing you very soon.


Nader A. Nadershahi ’94, DDS, MBA, EdD

Kimberly A. LaRocca ’06 DH | Building Bridges

As a young girl, Kimberly LaRocca ’06 DH and her family would travel from Southern California to San Francisco every March for a meeting her father, Dr. F. Paul Senise ’65, attended. “I never knew, as a child, what this meeting was and never asked,” she says. Fast forward to 2016, where LaRocca not only attends the spring meeting—the Annual Meeting of the Alumni Association—but as its president, leads it as well. Her father also served as president of the Alumni Association.

In addition to being the first daughter of a previous president to hold the position of president herself, LaRocca is the first dental hygiene graduate to head the Alumni Association.  “I started in 2007 as a board member, and I served six years,” she says. “During the last year, I didn’t want to leave, and to continue on you have to move up the ladder.”

LaRocca was nominated for president, but held her breath, not sure it would come to fruition. All previous Alumni Association Presidents have been dentists.

When she was elected last March 2016, LaRocca was thrilled. “This is an incredible opportunity to give back to a University that has given me my professional career,” she explains. “It has provided me with an inner confidence to lead, given me a higher obligation and a greater sense of purpose.”

LaRocca didn’t necessarily plan to pursue a career in dentistry. She graduated from University of the Pacific in 1989 with a bachelor of arts degree in communication, along with her twin sister, Dr. Kristina Cameron ’98 DDS. She then spent 13 years working in San Francisco in technology as a human resources staffing manager, responsible for more than 400 job orders, including international and domestic hiring. It does get a little emotional, adds LaRocca. “I don’t think my father ever thought any of his daughters would follow in his profession, and to share this experience with him has been very touching.”

In 2001, LaRocca went back to school, spending two years taking science prerequisites, before being admitted to Pacific’s Dental Hygiene Program in Stockton, and then graduating in 2006. Since then, Kimberly has been working full time in private practice.

[pullquote]Kimberly is the first dental hygiene graduate to head the Alumni Association[/pullquote]

“Because of her corporate background, she understands working with a wide variety of opinions,” her father says. “She listens to all sides, then tries to incorporate them into the decision-making process in a way that will make everyone happy. I think that’s probably her biggest strength, as well as her attention to detail.”

As Alumni Association president, LaRocca hopes to continue to foster a lifelong relationship between the dental school and its graduates. “We want alumni to be involved in the school—giving back, participating in events and, of course, coming back to attend our Alumni Association Annual Meeting in March,” she says.

Also on the agenda is increasing participation among dental hygienists. “There are now 200 dental hygiene alumni, and only about a handful are active, dues-paying members of the Alumni Association,” she says. “We definitely want to increase that.”

When the clinical portion of the Dental Hygiene Program moves from Stockton to University of the Pacific’s San Francisco campus in January 2017, there may be more opportunities for dental hygiene students to participate in events, says LaRocca. “They’ll be on campus, interfacing with dentists and dental students, hearing about and attending events. There’s enthusiasm and excitement among the dental hygiene alumni but they just need more communication and a welcome to the association.”

“When we talk about the Dugoni family, the dental hygienists are very much a part of that family,” says Senise.

In addition to building and maintaining relationships, another goal for the Alumni Association is to address the use of technology in communicating with alumni. “We’re more time poor today,” says LaRocca. “I think people definitely want information faster, and technology has changed the way we think about providing service to our members.” But there’s not a one-size-fits-all way of communicating, adds LaRocca. Instead, it’s about discovering the ways members are comfortable communicating.

Just as it was years ago, the Alumni Association’s main event is the Annual Meeting. Though it’s a lot of work organizing luncheons, speakers, continuing education and other events, it’s also “an awful lot of fun,” says LaRocca. “And it’s a great opportunity for classmates to come back and see each other.”

The Alumni Association is not just an organizational presence for students after they graduate. “We welcome new students at the Cioppino Dinner during the first week of school, we’re part of the White Coat Ceremony the second year and we host the Alumni/Graduate Banquet during graduation weekend. We’re here to support, guide and mentor Dugoni School alumni,” says LaRocca. That’s how family works.

Nerve Block Injection Research Garners Awards

Students Robin Lambert and Riddhima Suri, members of the DDS Class of 2017, are receiving attention and awards for research that explores a modified technique to deliver anesthetic to patients. Their project, “A New Insertion Landmark and Modification of the ‘Standard Technique’ for Inferior Alveolar Nerve Block Injections,” won the ADA/Colgate Dental Student Conference on Research award at the 18th Annual Pacific Research Day held as part of the school’s Excellence Day in May 2016. It also garnered third place in the Table Clinic Competition at CDA Presents in Anaheim in May 2016 and a first place Student Research Award at the San Francisco Dental Society and ASDA District 11 Meetings in late 2015.

Currently, dentists use soft-tissue landmarks to locate the injection sites for their anesthetics, achieving success rates that range from 98% to as low as 13%. By proposing hard-tissue landmarks instead, Lambert and Suri aim to simplify and standardize the technique while improving the success rate. Their work was recently featured in Dentistry Today in an article entitled, “California’s Brightest Students Shine at Table Clinic Competition.”

To establish appropriate new landmarks Lambert and Suri worked with Dr. Gary D. Richards, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences. They first carried out extensive dissections in the anatomy laboratory to establish nerve pathways and relationships. With that data in hand, Lambert and Suri moved to 3D virtual reconstructions of adult skulls from the dental school’s Atkinson Collection, curated by Dr. Dorothy Dechant. These virtual reconstructions were critical to establish the validity of the new landmarks and to test for variation related to age, ethnicity and the presence or absence of third molars or complete dentitions.

Lambert and Suri’s work, the first of a series of research projects, is leveraging the dental school’s resources in multiple departments to address topics of clinical interest. To this end, Lambert, Suri and Richards are working with Drs. Bernadette Alvear Fa ’06 and Karen Schulze in the Department of Integrated Reconstructive Dental Sciences to begin a clinical trial to establish the efficacy of the new landmarks. Additionally, Lambert and Suri are mentoring a group of four students in the DDS Class of 2018 who, with the help of Dr. A. Jeffrey Wood, chair of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry, plan to extend the study to include infants and children.

Young Alums Discover the Rewards of Teaching

Teaching. It’s something many dental students imagine themselves doing, especially when they’re learning their skills under great dental educators. But for most students and young dental school graduates, teaching is something they think they’ll do someday, at a time far in the future after they’ve established other careers. The four young alumni here, though, are on a different path. For a variety of reasons, they have become full-time dental educators, and they love it.

Building a Dental Program from Scratch

For Dr. Clark Dana ’03, ’15 Benerd School of Education, the pull of teaching was there from the time he started as a student at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. “I loved my dental school experience and decided early on that I would someday teach,” says the 43-year-old Dana.

He went into private practice after graduating, and in 12 years he built up two different practices, one in Utah and one in a small, underserved town in Wyoming. Then he heard that Roseman University of Health Sciences would open Utah’s first dental school in South Jordan. It was an opportunity to be part of building a dental education program from scratch. “I made a call, and I was able to begin work at a new dental school and help create what we are today,” he says.

Dana was asked to direct the dental anatomy course, and as a new teacher at a new school, he was, in his words, “scrambling to figure things out.” He reached out to Dr. Nader Nadershahi ’94, his group practice administrator when he was a dental student, for advice, and he learned about the master’s degree in dental education program offered jointly through the Academy for Academic Leadership and Pacific’s Gladys L. Benerd School of Education. “The degree program was perfect for me,” says Dana. “I was taking the course while preparing and teaching my own courses and was able to integrate what I was learning. I was a sponge!”

[pullquote]“The degree program was perfect for me.”
–Dr. Dana Clark ’03, ’15 EDU[/pullquote]

Dana’s role at Roseman is now director of preclinical education, and he says that his humanistic experience at the Dugoni School of Dentistry has been influential in guiding the educational direction of his program. He explains, “Our team has worked hard to put the patient at the center of every teaching experience. We value evidence-based decision making and critical thinking. We want our students to become diagnosticians, to be prepared to adapt to a changing profession. We ask ourselves, ‘What do these students need to know to be successful now… and in 20 years?’”

Dana has discovered not only the joy of teaching others but the satisfaction of adding to his own skill set. “Once I finished my master’s degree, I was hungry for more learning, and I’m now working on my PhD in discipline-based educational research at BYU.”

In building a new dental program, Dana has drawn on what he loves best about dentistry. “We get to influence the lives of others. From practicing in an underserved area—which I did as a clinician—to guiding students in their learning, we’re needed. It’s incredibly fulfilling,” he says.

Playing to Her Strengths

Dr. Civon Gewelber ’12 has known she wanted to teach since she was in high school and encountered some fabulous and inspiring educators. “I tended to be good at the subjects taught by my favorite teachers, which made me realize how important teachers are in influencing students’ attitudes and outcomes.”

The desire to teach and to work with her hands meant that a career in dental education was a great fit for Gewelber, but first, she spent many years enjoying being a student herself. After earning her undergraduate degree, she entered a three-year, pre-medical, post-baccalaureate program, followed by dental school and a year of residency. It was during her residency at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) that she was offered a part-time position after graduation to get a taste for teaching before applying for a full-time position.

“I knew I didn’t want to own a dental practice, and I absolutely loved being in the clinic with students,” says the 32-year-old Gewelber. “I have never regretted the decision to stay and pursue a full-time position.”

She still remembers giving her first lecture, on gingiva and tooth supporting structures. “I was very nervous, but the first-year dental students were so supportive and applauded at the end. I’ve been hooked ever since.”

[pullquote]“I knew I didn’t want to own a dental practice, and I absolutely loved being in the clinic with students.”
–Dr. Civon Gewelber ’12[/pullquote]

Among the many faculty members at the Dugoni School of Dentistry who inspired Gewelber along her journey from dental student to professor, Dr. Mark Booth ’01 stands out. “I had previously thought that you needed at least a few years of private practice experience before being qualified to teach, but Dr. Booth made me realize that everyone has something to offer and even without years of experience I could still influence students in a positive way and help them develop a good foundation for a successful career.”

One way Gewelber influences students is in her role as the director of UNLV’s newly formed Special Care Dental Clinic, where, now as a full-time assistant professor, she teaches students about treating adult patients with disabilities. Encouragement she received from Dr. Paul Subar during her Dugoni School of Dentistry rotation with special needs patients was critical to her having the confidence to accept this challenging appointment.  “He told me that I was good with the patients and should consider looking into hospital dentistry as a career.  At the time I didn’t think much of it, but when my current position became available I remembered Dr. Subar’s comments and thought, ‘I can do this!’”

“I am so thankful to everyone at the Dugoni School for giving me a strong foundation and encouragement to pursue an academic career at a young age.”

While she admits to being surprised about the year-round nature of teaching, with sometimes long hours to grade papers, mentor students and continue her own professional development, Gewelber says she loves her work. “Teaching is a good fit for me, bottom line. I feel like I’m making a difference.”

An Accidental Educator

Dr. Eric Harris ’03 spent the first six years after graduating from the Dugoni School of Dentistry establishing two private dental practices and participating in several overseas trips providing dental care to underserved populations before transitioning to academia by accident. Literally.

In 2009, Harris crashed his motorcycle while traveling 80 miles per hour. He broke 16 bones in his hands, wrists and spine, and his right hand had to be surgically rebuilt. “When I woke up in the hospital a week after the accident, my first thought was ‘Oh no! I can’t be a dentist anymore!’” the 39-year-old Harris recalls. “But I quickly regained a profound sense of gratitude and a determination to appreciate every moment of my life. I was optimistic about pursuing a career doing other things I enjoyed.”

He eventually accepted a teaching position at A.T. Still University, Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health in Mesa, Arizona. He is now clinical director of community partnerships and assistant professor of clinical dentistry, teaching a simulation lab module on CAD/CAM and technology-assisted dentistry, clinical CEREC dentistry and clinical photography. He also serves as an adjunct professor at A.T. Still’s Missouri campus, teaching the same lab and photography courses, and he spends one day a month as an adjunct professor for several AEGD residency programs. Harris is also clinical director for a free dental clinic embedded in a local Title 1 elementary school.

[pullquote]“I love dentistry, and I am proud to have learned my craft from the best.”
–Dr. Eric Harris ’03[/pullquote]

Harris is passionate about volunteering and has provided dental care to patients around the world. He co-founded Bright Island Outreach, an organization that takes 25-75 dental students from several U.S. universities on six expeditions per year. During a recent expedition, volunteers treated 461 patients in four days. They provided more than 800 extractions, 500 fillings, 89 root canals and 56 dentures. Students on these trips learn more than just clinical skills, says Harris. “They learn time management, encouraged by the 400 patients standing outside waiting their turn, and they develop an appreciation for participating in outreach dentistry throughout their careers, whether on expeditions like ours or in their own neighborhoods and communities.”

The accident that led to his teaching career now feels like an opportunity to Harris. “I love dentistry, and I am proud to have learned my craft from the best,” he says. “But when people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I am a teacher. It’s wonderful to teach something I love to students who are eager to learn it.”

A Career that Fits

Looking back, Dr. Keith Boyer ’08 says his teaching career started during his second year at the Dugoni School of Dentistry, when he helped out friends in the first-year class after hours in the sim lab. Now the 32-year-old endodontist finds that full-time teaching fits his family’s life and offers him the chance to inspire dental students with the same passion he has for treating patients.

After Boyer finished dental school, he completed an endodontic residency at University of Pennsylvania, then began working in private practice, first in Pennsylvania and then in California, while also teaching part-time. In 2013, he applied to teach endodontics at Western University of Health Sciences (WesternU) in Pomona, California.

“At first, I maintained a practice on the side, but I found the time spent at school to be so much more rewarding,” said Boyer. “So, I dropped private practice and only see patients in faculty practice now.”

In teaching students to care for patients, Boyer relies on a familiar example. “I try to model high clinical standards and empathy just like my instructors did at the Dugoni School,” he says. Several dental school faculty members were influential in Boyer’s own educational development, including Dr. Alan Gluskin ’72, who spurred Boyer’s interest in endodontics and gave him the opportunity to teach in the pre-clinical endodontics module. Moreover, the humanistic teaching model from the Dugoni School of Dentistry is one, according to Boyer, that has been replicated at WesternU, the newest dental school in California. “It was an easy transition for me to teach here. Because my educational experience at the Dugoni School was so good, I try to deliver the same experience for my students.”

[pullquote]“At first, I maintained a practice on the side, but I found the time spent at school to be so much more rewarding.”
–Dr. Keith Boyer ’08[/pullquote]

Being a full-time educator has additional benefits. Boyer notes that working for a non-profit institution offers opportunities for student loan repayment and forgiveness. And, the educational schedule fits well with family life. His wife, Dr. Jamie Parado ’09, is also a faculty member at WesternU, and although Boyer still works long hours, when he’s off he can really focus on his family. “When our daughter was born, I was able to take a full six weeks of family leave to bond with her and help my wife, something I would never be able to do in private practice.”

As a dental educator, Boyer prepares future dentists by teaching them what he loves most about the field. “Dentistry, especially endodontics, is both an art and a science. We can use our knowledge of disease processes, anatomy and physiology and apply that knowledge to help heal patients and relieve them of pain.”

Jennifer Langham is a contributor to  Contact Point and other University of the Pacific publications.

New School Website Launches

The Dugoni School of Dentistry has a fresh, new online look thanks to its revamped school website which was launched during the summer break. Features of the site include an updated design that better aligns with University of the Pacific’s other websites; easier-to-find information; responsive design for convenient use by phone, tablet and desktop users; more flexible web page designs across the site; and an upgraded content management system.

Collaborators from Marketing and Communications, Information Technology, Design and Photo and the University Web Communications team worked together to roll out the site based on feedback from the school community. Visit the site at and explore resources for alumni, dental professionals, patients and other audiences.

Joanne Fox | Culture Builder

As visitors tour the dental school campus, they admire the state-of-the-art facilities and they consistently remark about the friendliness of the people at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. A welcoming “hello” and a kind smile go a long way to make everyone at the school, especially visitors, understand the culture here and why the dental school is one big family. And no one embodies the humanistic spirit of the school more than Joanne Fox, director of the Alumni Association. “The magic of Pacific is in its people,” as Dean Emeritus Arthur A. Dugoni ’48 often says. This statement is especially true for this extraordinary individual who has given so much to the dental school for the past 34 years.

Back in October 1981, Joanne Fox came to the dental school for a temporary, six-week data entry job in the Public Relations and Development Office. She completed the project in just one month and Al Gilmour, assistant dean, hired her right away. “I supported both public relations and development which were under Arlene Burbank and Al Gilmour at the time, and I also helped Leroy Cagnone who was in charge of the Alumni Association,” Joanne recalls. “Even though I was not officially with the Alumni Association, I was already working with it and organizing events.”

Joanne worked for the Public Relations and Development Office for the next 18 months, until Dean Dugoni hired her as an administrative assistant in administration. “The school had such a positive, supportive feeling from the get go,” said Joanne. “Everyone was so welcoming.” While working in the Dean’s Office, Joanne supported both Drs. Dugoni and Dave Nielsen ’67, assistant dean of administration, who was also the newly named executive director of the Alumni Association. In 1985, Joanne and Nielsen planned the first of 30 Annual Alumni Meetings together.

Joanne also coordinated many of the school’s signature events and programs, such as Asilomar, OKU Convocation, Dean’s Graduation Luncheon, First-Year Orientation, Faculty Retreat, along with many regional alumni events. It was at the Asilomar Conference in February 1982 when she happened to greet a third-year student, Michael Fox, at the Friday night welcome where they sat together. They have been married for 28 years and have three daughters: Denise, Alanna and Justine.

In 1995, Joanne became coordinator of the Alumni Association. She moved to the first floor suite in the 2155 Webster building and worked solely for Nielsen. It was still just a two-person operation running the association. Joanne became the friendly voice and face of the Alumni Association—the person who talked to alumni on the phone or greeted them when they visited the school or came to alumni events. Her attention to detail and willingness to do whatever it took to get the job done—even working seven days a week at times—was, and continues to be, impressive. And, everyone appreciates her warm and graceful demeanor even under the most stressful situations.

In 2008, Dr. Darryl Lee ’77, president of the association at the time, wanted Joanne to have a title to better reflect what she did for the Alumni Association. A decision was made and Joanne was named assistant director of the Alumni Association.

“I was privileged and fortunate to work with Joanne Fox for more than 30 years, first as one of my administrative assistants and later as assistant director of our Alumni Association,” said Dugoni. “In tandem with Dr. David Nielsen, they created the best dental Alumni Association in the United States.”

Dr. Nader Nadershahi ’94, interim dean, named Joanne director of the Alumni Association in January 2016. She continues to manage staff members Andrea Woodson, coordinator, who was hired in 2005, and Marceyl Jones, administrative assistant, who recently joined the team. “Joanne has a deep understanding and knowledge of the dental school family and will help us continue nurturing those wonderful relationships as director of our Alumni Association in the years ahead,” said Nadershahi.

As director, Joanne would like to increase dues-paying membership among the nearly 8,000 alumni and increase attendance at the Annual Alumni Meeting. “We want to engage the millennials and younger alums and find out what they need from us,” she says. “When younger graduates come to our events they benefit and see the positives of the personal interactions with their classmates and older alumni.”

“Every year, there is a different president heading the Alumni Association,” Joanne says. “Each president has a different vision and a different way to work with the Alumni Board. It makes my job interesting because we collaborate and advise each other, and I also get to know so many dynamic alumni officers and board members.”

Before coming to the dental school, Joanne worked in the banking industry for 10 years, starting as a part-time teller in college. She worked in the commercial and loan departments at Bank of America and San Francisco Federal Savings and Loan which according to Joanne, “Like the Dugoni School, it was another Camelot place to work.”

“There is such a joyful camaraderie among all of the people in the building,” Joanne says. “I have developed relationships with so many individuals over the years, and it is fun to find out what our alumni are up to when they come back to visit. My job has been decades of meeting and working with people.”

“Joanne lives the following virtues of exceptional leadership, which include enjoying and excelling in her work, believing in the organization and its mission, understanding where she fits in the grand scheme of things and she is loyal to her team,” says Dugoni. “Her intelligence, passion and caring is a model for everyone she works with.”

Joanne’s genuine personality and her ability to connect with people, especially alumni, are qualities that make her unique. She has received the Medallion of Distinction award and honorary membership in both the Omicron Kappa Upsilon and Tau Kappa Omega dental honor societies. She is a dedicated employee whose warm and caring demeanor continues to grace the halls of the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry.

And for that, we are all fortunate.