The Student National Dental Association (SNDA) chapter at UAB recently hosted one of the school’s leading diversity initiatives.

two desktop screens showing video call and presentationImpressions, an interactive annual program that exposes pre-dental college students to a career in dentistry, focuses on preparing underrepresented minority students for dental school and the admissions process.

Dr. Michelle Robinson, senior associate dean and diversity director, said the program is an important part of the school’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

"Developing a rich culture starts with a conscious, deliberate effort to recruit diverse students who add depth of experience and worldviews to the organization,” she said. “But students from racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the profession relative to their numbers in the general population may have limited exposure to health careers and, thus, benefit from programs like Impressions."

Helping participants become stronger applicants, the daylong program provides SNDA members an opportunity to share their knowledge and experience with those preparing to apply. It also gives attendees a chance to become acquainted with UAB School of Dentistry.

Forty aspiring dentists from Alabama and surrounding states participated this year. Schools represented included UAB, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Georgia State, Florida A&M, North Carolina A&T, and others.

The program includes lectures by dental students and faculty, a panel of students and alumni, and student-led preclinical dentistry experiences and introductory Dental Admission Test (DAT) preparation.

In her second year to organize the event, Julia Pham said the challenge was redesigning it as a virtual program instead of one held on campus. Pham, a third year D.M.D. student, said that although she enjoyed the opportunity to do something different this year, she did not want to make any compromises. She shared, "I wanted this year’s students to have the same kind of experience that participants have had in the past."

pre-COVID impressions programParticipants in a pre-COVID Impressions programIn place of the traditional hands-on activities, such as simulating dental ‘drill and fills’ and creating dental impressions, the group incorporated a new twist into the virtual event. Each participant got to show off their hand skills by carving their own tooth out of soap. There was even a prize awarded for the best tooth-shaped soap carving. Other prizes included scholarship awards for the top two winners of an essay competition.

Calling this year’s virtual event a success, Pham said they were overwhelmed with positive feedback after the program. "I had a great time putting together the event with the help of fellow SNDA members," she shared. "Although I did miss interacting with all the students in person, it was a fun this year as it was last and I was proud to see it come to fruition."

To achieve the school’s diversity goals, Robinson said it is important to offer a variety of innovative programs, like Impressions, to connect with budding dental students early and often. "Our national award winning SNDA chapter offers a fantastic program that is always well received," she shared.

Pham added, "It was rewarding to have our fellow dental students and alumni interact with the participants. We enjoyed helping them understand the ins and outs of the application process and what dental school is like so they can see the possibility of pursuing the same path as us."

Special thanks to panel discussion members Dr. Ray Dawkins (‘20), Dr. Aneesa (Snood) Bone (‘20), Ashley Weaver (D4), Tunde Banwo (D3), Josh Cotton (D2), and Maggie Bassey (D1), as well as faculty lecturers Dr. Michelle Robinson and Dr. Ken Tilashalski, associate dean for academic affairs.