Tag Archives: predental

You May Ask Yourself, How Did I Get Here?

By Stan Constantino

Behind Pacific’s unique culture, there are extraordinary students. Behind every admitted DDS student there is the Office of Student Services. Student Services has created its own humanistic brand that mentors, encourages and inspires the next generation of dentists and dental students.

The Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry has a rich tradition of producing the best and brightest dentists in the profession, but not all students came looking for a career in dentistry.

If you asked Dr. Chris Nelson ’09 what he thought about dentistry when he was a college student he would have said, “dull.” Crafting an ideal prep for an amalgam restoration? “It’s as interesting as poking holes in a paper with a pencil.”

“Dentistry had been simply the family business, a career my father and his father both enjoyed,” Nelson said. “I knew dentistry combined the science, leadership and business management I desired in a career, yet I was reluctant to pursue it.”

Nelson wasn’t the only one disinclined to pursue dentistry. Dr. Daniel McMillan ’06 exclaimed, “I wanted to make a lot of money and be an actor like Tony Danza!”

“I was into music growing up, but I loved animals too,” added Dr. Jenika Hatcher ’08.

Despite having different, endearing childhood aspirations, Hatcher, McMillan and Nelson landed on the same path—at the Dugoni School of Dentistry.

The dental school’s Office of Student Services, under the leadership of Associate Dean Kathy Candito, has a long history of inspiring and educating potential students through innovative and engaging programs. The Student Services staff of 10, who have a combined 110 years of service at the dental school, also oversees other services including financial aid, insurance, health care and housing.

“We are dedicated to developing and fostering relationships with students who show promise of meeting the oral healthcare needs of the communities they’ll eventually serve,” said Candito, who recently became one of the first women to be named associate dean in the school’s 115-year history. “One of our objectives is to provide these students opportunities to motivate them for a career in dentistry and mentor them in hopes of getting into a dental school—it’s an added bonus if it happens to be at Pacific.”

Predental Clinical Simulation Course

The predental clinical simulation course is a two-day program designed for prospective students to gain hands-on clinical experience and insight into the dental profession as well as dental school.

Taught by current dental students, course activities include: a Class I preparation on an ivorine tooth using high-speed hand pieces and other instruments; amalgam condensation into a Class I restoration on an ivorine tooth; detection of basic interproximal caries on X-rays; and using composite, tooth-colored restorative material and articulating paper.

Last year, the course admitted 60 participants and had 30 people on the waiting list. Predental students come from throughout the United States to attend this highly desirable and innovative program that yields rave reviews.

“The moment I began drilling, I realized with amazing clarity that dentistry was actually fun! With every spin of the bur I was filled with more excitement,” said Nelson, a third-generation graduate of Pacific, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Dr. Leon Nelson ’60 and father Dr. Mike Nelson ’81. “Taking the predental clinical simulation course at the dental school was the deciding factor for me.”

Armed with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence, Nelson began paving his way to dental school. He immediately joined the predental club at University of California at Davis and later became its president. As a student at the Dugoni School of Dentistry, Nelson was active in student government and became involved with numerous outreach and admissions programs, including the predental clinical simulation course that sealed his professional fate.

Dental Camp

In partnership with the California Dental Association, Student Services hosts a day-long dental camp for middle school and high school students to expose them to the dental profession. During the hands-on program, students take impressions of their own teeth, make cavity preparations and learn how to perform oral cancer screenings. Every year, more than 30 students from across the San Francisco Bay Area participate in this event.

Pacific Pride Day

Pacific Pride Day, the dental school’s annual open house, attracts up to 600 prospective students and their families every year. Attendees get an intimate look at the Dugoni School of Dentistry’s educational program through hands-on demonstrations in the preclinical simulation laboratory, student-led tours and information sessions about admissions and financial aid. Participants have lunch with the dean and learn about student life through a panel discussion with current students.

“As a first-year student, I was a host and tour guide at Pacific Pride Day. I really enjoyed it because some of the students on my tour ended up becoming Pacific dental students,” described McMillan, who is now a faculty member at Pacific and practices in Brentwood, California.

“Some of the reasons I chose to apply to Pacific werethe amazing people and indescribable energy and support I felt when I met people associated with the school and when I attended Pacific Pride Day,” said Keon Aghar, Class of 2014. “It’s a special place. Despite how tired and stressed I am at this moment, I really love this place. I just don’t understand how that is possible.”

Developing Connections

At universities and colleges throughout the Western United States, Student Services amplifies its outreach efforts by strategically hosting large admissions and general information sessions for prospective students, especially at predental clubs and honor societies. The two-hour visits usually feature an official presentation followed by a question and answer session. Student Services also participates in career fairs, graduate school and pre-health professions information programs and college advisor meetings.

[pullquote]I hadn’t even thought about being a dentist, but after the presentation, I wanted to be one…I wanted to go to Pacific.”
– Dr. John Kim DDS ’04[/pullquote]

In 2010, the staff visited a total of 17 colleges and universities, which attracted more than 500 attendees.

“While other recruitment tools, like online forums and social media, are becoming more prevalent, we believe that building personal relationships with potential students is very important,” said Candito. “Not only do these visits help us find the best and the brightest students, it gives us the opportunity to mentor and nurture students who are undecided on a specific health professions career.”

Dr. John Kim ’04 can attest to the value of developing connections. “As a child growing up in a family of physicians, medicine was always in the back of my mind. But in college I wasn’t so sure anymore. Although, I knew I wanted to stay in the health sciences,” Kim remembered. “By my junior year, Craig (Dr. Craig Yarborough), then associate dean for student services] visited our campus and made a presentation to our health professions study club. The school, the faculty, everyone and everything we learned about Pacific was amazing. I hadn’t even thought about being a dentist, but after the presentation, I wanted to be one … I wanted to go to Pacific.”

Kim eventually matriculated at the Dugoni School of Dentistry, but also received more than what he expected during dental school. After graduation, he married classmate Dr. Misty Cervantes ’04.  Both have thriving practices in Seattle and are raising two children.

Hatcher, who is a dental associate with La Clinica de la Raza in Oakland, California, recalled her first encounter with Pacific and echoed Kim’s sentiments. “When Pacific came to present to us at UC Davis, everyone was so nice  and so warm. I told myself if everyone there is like this, I want to go to school there,” said Hatcher, who was offered admission to several schools throughout the country.

“When I interviewed at Pacific, I fell in love with everyone in admissions and the school. Everyone is genuinely nice. The ‘happy air’ rumors were true,” Hatcher recalled. “Interviewing at other schools was a completely different experience.”


Built around the dental school’s core value of humanism, Student Services, current students and alumni personify the “Pacific family.”

“The family environment is one of the greatest drivers of the dental school’s success in enrolling talented students and producing excellent clinicians,” added Candito. “It is also the talented and hardworking Student Services staff, the administration’s vision and the invaluable foundation built by Dr. Craig Yarborough when he was in the position of associate dean for student services.”

“There’s always a sense of family in dental school that continues after graduation,” added Kim. “After I graduated and started as an associate in private practice, I met Dr. Ron Redmond who is a Pacific regent and graduate. Instantaneously, he became a great mentor, a huge factor in my success and my growth. There’s a ‘Pacific type’ and no other dental school can exemplify that.”

“Dr. Art Dugoni used to talk about the magic at Pacific,” McMillan added. “After I graduated and became a faculty member, the first day I pulled up to the school, I thought, ‘the magic is still here.’”

Stan Constantino is assistant director of admissions for the Dugoni School of Dentistry.

Routine Dental Visit Leads to New Course in Predental Ceramics

By Sharon Mahoud

The introductory ceramics and sculpture classes taught by Visual Arts Professor Trent Burkett are popular general education courses on the Stockton campus. One reason they fill up so fast is they are highly coveted by predental students, who typically make up half of the students in the class. That’s because the Department of Biology encourages predental students to take these courses as a means of building dexterity and skill with hand tools as well as promoting other valuable characteristics such as individual expression and visual literacy.

Fateful Trip to the Dentist

Last year while Burkett was having his biannual cleaning with his dentist, Dr. Lester Low ’86, an alumnus of both Pacific and the Dugoni School of Dentistry, he learned about the Perceptual Ability Test (PAT) that prospective students take as part of a larger Dental Admission Test (DAT) prior to applying to dentistry schools. The PAT assesses a student’s ability to determine angles and shapes through logic and visual perception. For example, a student must determine how a complex geometric object can fit through an aperture.

Impressed by the difficulty of the test, Burkett said a light bulb went on. “I realized I could pattern a course from my existing sculpture and ceramics classes that offered a more in-depth focus on teaching students these skill sets,” he said.

After a relatively rapid approval process that involved meeting with the Department of Biology Co-Chair Gregg Jongeward and members of the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, Burkett was able to offer his new course this past spring: predental ceramics.

Dr. Nader Nadershahi ’94, executive associate dean and associate dean for academic affairs at the dental school, who has done sculpture himself, was very interested in the idea. “The dental school wants its students to be well-rounded,” he said. “Being able to appreciate aesthetics, develop individual expression and articulate well verbally and in writing—all critical qualities a future dentist should possess—are promoted in Professor Burkett’s ceramics classes.”

Predental Ceramics Class Challenges and Inspires

A recent offering of the new predental ceramics class quickly filled during registration with 15 senior predental students, and students have been clamoring for more sessions to be offered. For the 3-unit course, Burkett took elements from his general ceramics classes but tailored the projects for predental students, upping the difficulty level and mostly focusing on small-scale works requiring a high degree of precision.

“I felt that the polishing techniques I learned in the predental ceramics class have followed through to the things I’m learning and doing in the simulation lab at dental school,” said Casey Luu, Class of 2014 and a student in the accelerated 3+3 program (where students spend three years of education on the Stockton campus followed by three years in dental school). “Working on small-scale projects was very helpful, especially working with the curvatures of various objects.”

One assignment required students to carve a perfect one-inch cube in plaster. However, creativity was also encouraged, and the final project called for students to create a “tooth-based” sculptural project—a creative, larger interpretation of teeth built in porcelain and fired in a kiln. These final works were judged and given awards, just like a juried art exhibit. The pieces were also displayed in the Biology Building on the Stockton campus.

[pullquote]“During the undergraduate program, we’re so concentrated on science and that’s not all dentistry is about.”[/pullquote]

“Our initial projects, particularly the microsculpture cube, were challenging but worthwhile,” said Brydan Regehr, Class of 2014. “During the course, we had a selection of dental tools to work with, in addition to sculpture tools. The class helped improve my hand-eye skills which have benefitted me as a first-year dental student.”

“The creativity level of the students is impressive, and some show a very strong artistic sense,” said Burkett. “Since predental students have to take so many science classes, it’s exciting to give them a creative outlet and see the outcome.”

The consensus among students was that the course was challenging but rewarding. One of the rewards was a PowerPoint presentation Burkett created for each student showing his or her predental ceramics projects. “The assignments were difficult and demanding,” noted Regehr. “Dr. Burkett pushed us to do our best and helped us gain an appreciation for the art of dentistry.”

Art and Science Connect

Burkett recently revisited the dental school and showed pictures of the projects the students had completed. The faculty, staff, and alumni were impressed. Kathy Candito, associate dean for student services, was very enthusiastic and suggested that Burkett show the student PowerPoint presentations at an upcoming event.

“I am glad that the idea worked and that I can make art relevant to other professional programs,” said Burkett. “This course proves that art can be useful for science and other disciplines.” The interdisciplinary nature of the experience has been rewarding. When Burkett walks over to the Biology Building, all of the predental students know him. “There’s a lot of interdepartmental and interschool collaboration happening at Pacific that people may not be aware of,” he said.

The Future of Predental Ceramics

Burkett hopes to get the predental ceramics class approved as a permanent general education course. His long-term idea is to offer a 3-D certificate to predental students composed of three courses: ceramics (wheel throwing), predental ceramics and his intermediate 3-D studio course.

“During the undergraduate program, we’re so concentrated on science and that’s not all dentistry is about,” said Luu. “The ceramics class opened my perspective and reminded me that dentistry is a combination of science and art.”

Sharon Mahood is an East Bay freelance writer who also writes for the College of the Pacific.