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School of Dentistry recognized with HEED Award for Top Colleges for Diversity

Published: October 28, 2022 by Kyle Rogers

Exterior of the front of UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry.
UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry is one of 63 honorees and one of only three dental schools to been named a 2022 recipient of the Health Professions Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award. Photo by Brian Schnupp.
Leaders in the DEI Team (counterclockwise from top left): Lisa Cain, PhD, associate dean for professional development and faculty affairs; Ralph Cooley, DDS, assistant dean for admissions and student services; and Auco Dang, director of administration.
Leaders in the DEI Team (counterclockwise from top left): Lisa Cain, PhD, associate dean for professional development and faculty affairs; Ralph Cooley, DDS, assistant dean for admissions and student services; and Auco Dang, director of administration.

UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry has been named a 2022 recipient of the Health Professions Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.

“Maintaining a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment is essential to the respective missions of UTHealth Houston and the School of Dentistry,” said Dean John A. Valenza, DDS. “This national recognition reflects the amazing efforts of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team; the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Wellness Council; and, of course, everyone at the School of Dentistry.”

The HEED Award is the only national honor recognizing U.S. dental, medical, pharmacy, osteopathic, nursing, veterinary, allied health, and other health schools and centers that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion across their campuses.

UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry is one of 63 honorees and one of only three dental schools to garner the 2022 distinction. Honorees will be featured in the December 2022 issue of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are listed among our core values in the new School of Dentistry Strategic Plan for 2022-2027,” Valenza said. “As the strategic plan outlines, we’re committed to valuing and supporting the well-being and productivity of each and every member of our team, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and wellness serve as cornerstones in recruitment, curriculum, and professional development.”

In 2017, Valenza created the Diversity and Inclusion Team (now the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team) at the School of Dentistry for the purpose of assessing and promoting diversity and inclusion. Recommendations led to the creation of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Wellness Council and a multitude of different initiatives.

Through the DEI Team, the School of Dentistry has established a multi-collaborative model of diversity, equity, and inclusion that consists of partnerships with faculty, staff, and students in the dental school; peers across UTHealth Houston and the local Houston community; and affiliates on a national and international level.

The collaborative model is driven by the DEI Team’s mission statement, which says, “[UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry] acknowledges and honors the fundamental value, equality, and dignity of all individuals. We pledge ourselves to create and maintain an environment that respects the diversity and inclusion of our students, faculty, residents, staff, and patients as we strive to improve oral health and overall health.”

The activities of the DEI Team and DEIW Council, such as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Week, are produced through the collaborative model. In January 2022, Professor Ebtissam M. Al-Madi, BDS, MSD, founding dean of the College of Dentistry at Princess Nourah University in Saudi Arabia, delivered the keynote address at the 4th Annual DEI Week.

Community outreach plays a key role in the educational mission of UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry. Some populations lack access to affordable dental care—affecting both their oral and overall health. In addition to being a dependable source of free or low-cost dental care for patients of all ages, the School of Dentistry provides a crucial need for dental services in the community through its Mobile Dental Van Program, activities conducted by MOSAIC, and signature outreach events such as Give Vets a Smile and Give Kids A Smile, which give students the opportunity to learn through service.

Recognition is another major area of emphasis at the School of Dentistry.

Each September during Women in Medicine Month, the dental school highlights women in various faculty, staff, and student appointments and leadership positions through its “Women in Dentistry” initiative. The recognition also includes displayed banners and an annual Q&A series.

The School of Dentistry has utilized a variety of assessment tools to measure accomplishments in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

During summer 2022, the School of Dentistry performed a holistic diversity, equity, and inclusion evaluation with faculty, staff, and students assessing several categories—strategic planning; climate; education; recruitment and retention of students, faculty, and staff; evaluation and assessment—for recommendations leading to the enhancement of a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment and for the establishment of DEI goals.

“Embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion is necessary for the success of an institution and it drives organizational impact,” said Lisa D. Cain, PhD, associate dean for professional development and faculty affairs. “It’s also extremely important for the productivity, retention, and the well-being of faculty, staff, and students. We approached DEI at the School of Dentistry by first creating inclusive activities and events for the purpose of getting to know each other and celebrating our unique differences and similarities. This was necessary in order to move to the next level of establishing DEI goals and initiatives for the dental school.”

Next up for the School of Dentistry, as shared with faculty and staff at the Joint Faculty + Staff Retreat in July 2022, is the UTSD Many F.A.C.E.S. Program. This new program—modeled after the UTHealth Houston Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion principles of Foster, Affirm, Create, Empower, and Strive—has been created to guide the dental school in its efforts to address institutional climate concerns of most interest to faculty, staff, students, and residents. Core elements of the new program include awareness, education, and accountability.

“The progress we’ve made is due to the support of our dean, Dr. John Valenza; the DEI Team, consisting of Ms. Auco Dang, director of administration, and Dr. Ralph Cooley, assistant dean for admissions and student services; former director of administration Ms. Lynette Lewis; the DEIW Council; MOSAIC, under the leadership of Dr. David Fray; Ms. Lauren Moran, administrative assistant for the Office of Professional Development and Faculty Affairs; and all of the members and facets of the School of Dentistry,” Cain said. “We’re also thankful for the support we’ve received from UTHealth Houston’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, under the leadership of Dr. LaTanya Love, and from the university’s Diversity, Equity, and Wellness Council that was first under the leadership of Dr. Elda Ramirez. We share this honor with all of the UTHealth Houston schools, as they strive daily to implement and promote the importance of DEI.”

The HEED Award is open to all colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada and measures an institution’s level of achievement and intensity of commitment in regard to broadening diversity and inclusion on campus through initiatives, programs, and outreach; student recruitment, retention, and completion; and hiring practices for faculty and staff.

“The Health Professions HEED Award process consists of a comprehensive and rigorous application that includes questions relating to the recruitment and retention of students and employees—and best practices for both—continued leadership support for diversity, and other aspects of campus diversity and inclusion,” said Lenore Pearlstein, publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. “Our standards are high, and we look for schools where diversity and inclusion are woven into the work being done every day across their campus.”

INSIGHT Into Diversity is the oldest and largest diversity magazine and website in higher education. For nearly 50 years, INSIGHT Into Diversity has connected highly qualified employees with institutions of higher education that choose to embrace a workforce that is more reflective of their student population and their communities.

The School of Dentistry’s recognition marks the second honor for UTHealth Houston in as many years. McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston was named a HEED Award recipient in 2021.

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