Tag Archives: teaching

Sam Christensen ’05 | Teaching is in His DNA

Dr. Sam Christensen ’05 has taken an interesting career path to get where he is today—from middle-school science teacher to dental student to practitioner and now faculty member. In 2002, he was applying to dental school and working as a science teacher at Challenger Middle School in Sunnyvale. And 10 years later in 2012, he found himself back at Pacific as a row instructor, teaching fixed prosthodontics on Wednesdays. But little did he know that he would be teaching one of his former middle-school students.

“I was thrilled to find out that one of my former sixth-grade science students was a first-year student in the Class of 2015,” recounts Christensen. “As coincidence would have it, I was assigned as Adrienne Nguyen’s row instructor exactly 10 years from the last time I taught her in middle school.”  The bright, bubbly middle-school girl was now a first-year dental student. And Christensen’s path also crossed with another former middle-school student, Dr. Victoria Lim ’13, whom he saw in the Simulation Lab when she was a third-year student.

“He was one my favorite teachers, and looking back, he probably was the reason I pursued a science-related career,” says Adrienne Nguyen, Class of 2015. “I was surprised when I realized Dr. ‘C’ would be one of my instructors, but I was excited to become his student again, 10 years later. He hasn’t changed one bit. He is still a kid at heart, loves all things superheroes and still rocks the bold and crazy ties he wears to school.”

But how did Christensen make the transition from science teacher to dental professional?  Christensen attended Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. He thought he wanted to be a pediatrician and planned to go to medical school. “After graduation from LMU, I accepted a job teaching social studies at a private middle school in the Los Angeles area,” he said. “I thought of it as a temporary job because I was planning to go to medical school when I took the position and needed to finish my medical school prerequisites. I was as surprised as anyone that I enjoyed teaching and had an aptitude for that grade level. I was well suited to it.”

While teaching, Christensen worked in earnest on his prerequisites at California State University, Los Angeles, and then moved up north to Silicon Valley because his parents were there and he could begin studying for the MCATs full time while finishing some courses. “When I was back in the Bay Area, I took the MCATs, sent in my medical school applications and set up interviews,” said Christensen. Then, he accepted a job teaching science to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Challenger Middle School.

“I love opening kids’ eyes and taking seemingly complicated things and making them digestible,” Christensen says with enthusiasm. “I found that I could get eighth-graders to do organic chemistry as long it was explained to them in a way that was understandable. They did some physics and quantum mechanics, and those skills are very applicable to being a dentist. You need to put yourself in their position or you can’t relate to them or teach effectively. I don’t care how many credentials you have, if you cannot relate to your students you have no business being in front of a class.”

[pullquote]I love opening kids’ eyes and taking seemingly complicated things and making them digestible.[/pullquote]

Christensen started dating Jen—his future wife—and elected to switch gears. “We became engaged and even though Jen was willing to go to medical school with me, I decided that dentistry was more conducive to the lifestyle we wanted to have,” he said. “I called all of the medical schools and told them to remove my applications and told them I was going to dental school instead.”

At age 28, Christensen started as a first-year dental student at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry and married Jen during his first week of school. He served as his class liaison for the American Dental Education Association. “As an older dental student, it helped having some more life perspectives,” said Christensen. “I had a skill set from teaching and that gave me the ability to relate to my instructors and patients a little differently. And I think that worked to my advantage.” As a student, Christensen also knew that he wanted to someday teach at the dental school. “I meet with Dr. Geissberger before I graduated and he offered me a position on the fixed faculty as a row instructor.”

Christensen owns Central Coast Dental, a restorative and aesthetic dentistry practice in Aptos, California, works as a row instructor in the Department of Integrated Reconstructive Dental Sciences on Wednesdays and enjoys spending time with his wife Jen and their three children—Ellie (7), Luke (5) and Clark (17 months).

Working at the dental school provides Christensen not only with the opportunity to teach students but to interact with colleagues. “When you’re the boss in a small private practice, it’s nice to have a peer group of dental professionals to go to, such as other faculty members at the dental school.”

When asked why he enjoys teaching, Christensen replied, “The dental students keep you stimulated and it’s nice to see their fresh-faced enthusiasm. But what I enjoy the most is introducing dental students to the Dugoni School culture and being an ambassador for the profession.”

Ai Streacker ’79: Watching for Wow Moments

“I want our students to be people that are sought out, rather than people seeking jobs.”

Department of Restorative Dentistry faculty member Dr. Ai Streacker ’79 has travelled the globe. He’s an avid scuba diver (has been since the age of 13); musician (tuba and guitar); and motorcycle collector (there are four in his garage right now). Indeed, his passions and hobbies have taken him far and wide. But one passion, perhaps the one with the greatest impact, is teaching.

Ai has been a full-time faculty member at the Dugoni School of Dentistry since 2003. With 23 years of private practice under his belt, he decided it was the right time to pursue teaching – something he’d hoped to do since he was an undergraduate.

In addition to clinic instruction, Ai serves as director of the First-Year Restorative Curriculum.  He’s also working with colleagues to fine tune and revise the entire preclinical curriculum, which will ensure Dugoni School students have a solid educational foundation before entering the clinic.

“I want to make sure our preclinical curriculum is fully up-to-date so our students are able to meet the challenges of clinic and a modern day workforce,” said Ai. “Upon graduation, I want our students to be people that are sought out, rather than people seeking jobs.”

As he’s been teaching for nearly a decade now, Ai has realized that the “wow moment” is his favorite part of the job. That wow moment — watching a figurative light bulb go on when students finally grasp a technique, a concept — is very real and happens at the dental school regularly.

“I see students struggle with techniques, but then there will be that one time when you see it click in their minds and they finally get it. From that point forward they have no more problems with that technique,” he said. “That’s what does it for me. I can see it happen and it’s remarkable.”

Ai clearly has strong ties to the Dugoni School of Dentistry. When asked if he thinks there’s anything that sets the Dugoni School apart from other dental schools, he’s quick to comment on the curriculum and the caliber of his colleagues, but he also recalled an incident from when he was applying to dental school back in the 70s.  After a day of interviews at a southern California school, a student approached him and said “If you can go to any other dental school, do it. You don’t want to come here.”  Of course, that’s not likely to happen at Pacific, and when Ai came to interview, students were welcoming and gregarious (much how they are today).

One thing Ai cares deeply about is human health and wellbeing. He’s extremely focused on a healthy lifestyle, diet and exercise. His approach to caring for patients isn’t just to treat their oral health conditions, but to encourage a healthy lifestyle as well. This is also something he makes sure to teach his students — healthy mouths shouldn’t be the only priority of a dental professional. Dentists should try to encourage patients to be healthy in other ways too.

“Aside from practicing good dentistry, helping my patients achieve healthier lifestyles is something I’m very proud of,” he mentioned. “It was one of the more rewarding things I’ve done, and is something I’d love my students to embrace as well.”

Next year, Ai will assume the role of a practice leader under the Main Clinic’s new private practice model. In this role he’ll be able to work more closely with the students in his group, prepare them for life after dental school and hopefully have a lot of wow moments along the way.