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Joy-Thomas recognized with ADEA Excellence in Teaching Award

Published: April 25, 2024 by Dylan Allen

Dr. Anita-Joy Thomas holds her 2024 American Dental Education Association/Colgate-Palmolive Co. Excellence in Teaching Award certificate.
Dr. Anita-Joy Thomas was recognized with the 2024 American Dental Education Association/Colgate-Palmolive Co. Excellence in Teaching Award during the 2024 ADEA Annual Session in March. Photo by Dylan Allen.

Professor Anita Joy-Thomas, BDS, PhD, of UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry has been named the 2024 recipient of the American Dental Education Association/Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Excellence in Teaching Award.

The award supports dental educators who demonstrate exemplary standards and promote excellence in dental education. The award aims to enrich educational experiences by generating intellectual excitement within dental institutions and programs.

Joy-Thomas’ accolade was honored at the 2024 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition in March, and she will receive a $2,500 award to be used to enhance her teaching efforts.

“Winning this award is definitely an incredible honor,” said Joy-Thomas, chair of the Department of Diagnostic and Biomedical Sciences. “More than an honor, it is humbling and makes me want to continue to be a better teacher for my students.

“Faculty are nominated for this award from within each dental school, so you’re nominated by colleagues and students who you interact with directly. What makes this all the more special for me is that the award nomination is not from someone who just knows you from your CV; it’s coming from the people I work with on a daily basis.”

Joy-Thomas joined the School of Dentistry faculty in 2019 following her departure from a tenured position as associate professor, director of research, and department chair at Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine.

In addition to her duties as a department chair, Joy-Thomas serves the school in multiple capacities as a professor for many of the foundational science courses, including neuroscience, head and neck anatomy, and oral biology. She is also involved in research and scholarly activity and serves on multiple committees at the school and nationally.

Amongst all of her academic duties, Joy-Thomas considers teaching to be her passion and has, through time, developed strategies that work well for her students for optimal understanding of the content.

“When I first started as a junior faculty, nobody taught me how to teach, so I was just looking for examples from teachers who made a difference in my life. I tried to emulate what they did, and I quickly realized that although that’s all good, I had to learn how to teach better, and so I did,” she said.

“What motivates me to try and be a better version of my educator persona every day, other than the fact that I love to teach, is that I consider my students as my legacy. They carry on what I’m able to teach in a small way, and I’d like to think that in some way, shape, or form, I’ve been able to instill a love for learning, a love for asking questions, a love for figuring things out, and just essential curiosity in them. I hope they can translate this into their clinical practice and in how they care for their patients.”

Joy-Thomas’ teaching philosophy revolves around the core components of distilling information for her students in ways relevant to their practice, modeling high standards of professional practices and behaviors, having an openness to adapt teaching methods and appropriate technology for the student population, and effectively communicating with her students. She prides herself on preparing for even the simplest lecture as best as possible.

“It’s extremely fulfilling for me,” she said. “Being an educator is extremely, extremely fulfilling and I wouldn’t change anything about what I chose to do with my career. At the end of the day, if I can positively influence one student, that’s a job well done for me.”

Along with earning her most recent award, Joy-Thomas is also a past recipient of the ADEA/ADEA Council of Students, Residents and Fellows/Colgate-Palmotive Co. Junior Faculty Award in 2014, the ADEA/ADEGies Education Fellowship in 2019, and several other teaching awards and honors. She has also led various regional leadership initiatives and participated in national and international leadership programs, including the Women’s Leadership Forum at the Harvard Business School.

Joy-Thomas is the School of Dentistry’s third recipient of the ADEA/Colgate-Palmolive Co. Excellence in Teaching Award. Previous winners are Shalizeh “Shelly” Patel, DDS, MEd; and Dharini van der Hoeven, MSc, PhD, who garnered the honor in 2019 and 2023, respectively.

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