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UAB School of Dentistry confers Doctor of Dental Medicine degrees in 72nd annual Commencement Ceremony

On June 1, more than 80 UAB School of Dentistry graduates stepped into the world with three new letters behind their names – D.M.D. – and diplomas in hand as symbols of knowledge, dedication, and readiness to take the next steps. Their dental school journeys, including the late nights studying and the chairside chronicles, are now complete.

During a commencement ceremony that featured remarks from student, alumni, and state dental leadership, Dean Nicolaas Geurs challenged the graduates to embark upon their careers with real emotional energy, vitality, and passion. “The Class of 2024 represents a group who is inspirational to the rest of us. They are ethical and compassionate, and they worked together to make a difference,” he said.

Among the class, some will enter practice or military service, while others plan to continue their studies. Whatever avenues they pursue, the members of this class can continue to make a difference.

Here are a few of the school’s most recent graduates and their inspiring stories.

Pursuing Advanced Education

Heath Padgett

Heath Padgett giving the class presidents address during the 2024 D.M.D. Commencement CeremonyHeath Padgett giving the class president's address during the 2024 D.M.D. Commencement Ceremony.Heath Padgett, who delivered a class president’s address during the ceremony, was presented with the prestigious Dean’s Medal for his academic accomplishments and servant leadership.

In addition to being a class officer, Padgett was active in organized dentistry. He was president of the UAB Chapter of the American Student Dental Association (ASDA), served on the Alabama Dental Association’s Council on the New Dentist, and was a member of the Alabama Rural Health Association and the Academy of General Dentistry.

Continuing his studies through a UAB Orthodontics residency, he says, “I look forward to joining UAB Ortho in July! I decided to pursue orthodontics because I enjoy the puzzle of correcting a patient’s bite and seeing the transformation of their smile over the course of time. UAB Ortho has wonderful faculty, staff, and residents that really made me feel at home before joining the program, and I can’t wait to start soon!”

Padgett is one of more than two dozen students entering advanced education programs.

Improving Children’s Oral Health

Zoie McIntosh

Pictured left to right: Zoie McIntosh and Dara JohnsonPictured left to right: Zoie McIntosh and Dara Johnson.Zoie McIntosh did not know Dara Johnson when they arrived at the UAB School of Dentistry. The two Class of 2024 classmates became such good friends that they embarked on a 13-month community health project in 2022-23 through the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship of Alabama (ASF).

According to ASF Alabama, the pair designed and implemented a nutrition and oral hygiene education curriculum as a part of the MHERC’s Healthy Happy Kids Elementary After School Program, which was delivered at 24 sites and reached nearly 2,300 Pre-K through 5th grade students in the Birmingham Metro area. In addition to teaching children the importance of good nutrition and proper oral hygiene, they also crafted a referral system for children in need of a dental home with The Sidney B. Finn Pediatric Dentistry Clinic at the UAB School of Dentistry. Now ASF Fellows for Life, the duo laid the groundwork for third- and fourth-year dental students to provide community oral health screenings in partnership with the MHERC’s Live HealthSmart Alabama Mobile Wellness Clinic.

For McIntosh, the journey has come full circle. She will join UAB’s Pediatric Dentistry residency program in July, where she will advance her education in the very same Finn Clinic she served as an ASF Fellow.

Of pediatric dentistry McIntosh says, “I fell in love with the ability to create a safe space, make positive experiences, and change the trajectory of care for children and patients with special needs.”

Inspiring Others

Dave Verhine

Dave VerhineDave Verhine hooded by Dr. Bradford and Dr. Wadiak at the 2024 D.M.D. Commencement CeremonyDave Verhine hooded by Dr. Bradford and Dr. Wadiak at the 2024 D.M.D. Commencement Ceremony. returned to college after spending 11 years as a Captain and Naval Aviator in the U.S. Marine Corps.

One in a line of numerous veterans who have proudly come marching through the doors of the SOD, and departed to provide a different type of service, he wants to use his story as a servicemember turned dentist to inspire others.

He has been accepted into a 1-year Veteran Administration Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) Residency Program, where he will continue his training.

“In the future, I hope to use my own story as a servicemember who was medically retired after nearly eleven years facing an imminent career change. I hope to inspire other servicemembers and veterans to not only pursue their dreams but also to be aware of the educational benefits they have earned; learn how to apply for and utilize those benefits; and learn how to transition from the warrior culture to productive civilian life.”

- Dave Verhine, Class of 2024

Serving Their Country

Angelina Rizzuto and Mallory Kent

Angelina Rizzuto and Mallory Kent taking the U.S. Military Oath of Office led by Colonel Brent McClenny U.S. Air Force retiredAngelina Rizzuto and Mallory Kent taking the U.S. Military Oath of Office led by Colonel Brent McClenny, U.S. Air Force (retired).A special part of the commencement ceremony, four graduates, including Angelina Rizzuto and Mallory Kent, took the U.S. Military Oath of Office. Both Rizzuto and Kent will enter military AEGD residency programs.

Furthering her training through the U.S. Navy AEGD program, Rizzuto says, “Four years ago, I was extremely honored to be selected for the Navy Health Professions Scholarship Program. Several members of my family have served in the military, and I have always admired their courage and selflessness. I’m so grateful to be able to help care for our brave servicemen and women.”

Like Rizzuto, Kent says she felt called to join the military since both of her grandfathers served. She calls the Air Force AEGD program an ‘exceptional opportunity’ to serve her country while honing her skills as a dentist. “I am looking forward to the training and educational resources that will allow me to become a better dentist and serve the people who sacrifice so much,” she says.

Each of these graduates received a highly competitive Health Professions Scholarship Program scholarship from their respective services. They will enter at the rank of O-3 and will spend at least 4 years as a general military dentist.

The commissioning was led by Rear Admiral Gayle Shaffer, U.S. Navy (retired), and Colonel Brent McClenny, U.S. Air Force (retired). Both Shaffer and McClenny are SOD graduates and now serve as faculty.

Practicing in Alabama

Bobby Patel

Bobby Patel hooded by Dr. Bradford and Dr. Wadiak at the 2024 D.M.D. Commencement CeremonyBobby Patel hooded by Dr. Bradford and Dr. Wadiak at the 2024 D.M.D. Commencement Ceremony.After completing dental school in India, Bobby Patel worked as a certified dental lab tech in the U.S. for 5 years before returning to school to pursue a D.M.D. He is among 22 International Dental Program (IDP) students who began their studies in January 2022, becoming members of the Class of 2024.

Patel calls his time at UAB a life-changing experience. “I have great mentors and faculty members who went above and beyond to help me in this learning journey and now they have become my friends for a lifetime,” he says.

Beyond UAB, Patel enjoys the weather and social life in Alabama, referring to the state as his ‘sweet home.’ He has been living a southern lifestyle since settling in the Decatur-Hartselle area in 2013, where he has experienced southern hospitality. So it is no surprise that Patel is staying true to his love of the state and his family ties in the north-Alabama area.

Planning to practice in Athens, he joins dozens of his classmates who will remain right here in Alabama to serve the state as newly minted dentists.



Award winners from the Class of 2024 recognized during Honors Convocation Ceremony.

An interpretation of The Dentist’s Pledge by Dr. Sidney B. Finn, a former UAB SOD faculty member, leader, and innovator.