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The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry has its own version of the football huddle. It’s called the EXCEL program (EXcellence through Continued Enrichment & Learning), and it enables SOD faculty and staff to periodically gather together in a casual setting to enhance their knowledge, discuss issues, and develop a gameplan for the future.

Faculty and staff members at Fall EXCEL 2023

Some EXCEL programs are jam packed with speakers, providing important learning opportunities, skills enhancement, and faculty calibration. Others are more interactive and focused on teambuilding and planning. Many are a mix.

Typically held in classrooms or other on-campus facilities, the most recent EXCEL program, held on Oct. 18 at the Vestavia Hills Civic Center, was unique. Nearly 150 members of the SOD team were in attendance for a full day of discussions and activities, including a Family Feud-style teambuilding activity called Co-worker Feud that elicited plenty of good-natured laughter from the gathering.

“The value of this program is that everybody thinks about an issue – how to make the School of Dentistry an even better place – and then comes together to find answers,” says SOD Interim Dean Nico Geurs, DDS. “That process of working as a team is the most meaningful aspect of EXCEL.”

Communicating and working together is just what the group did.

“It’s very special to be able to come together and talk with people who I might not normally get to see, and just build those relationships,” says Libby Hooten, a surgical tech in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. “It’s nice to spend time with these people outside of the normal everyday work routine.”

EXCEL provides an opportunity for a wide variety of SOD faculty and staff to be seen and, most importantly, heard. For example, Devin Webster, a dental assistant with UAB Dental Group Faculty Practice, participated in an engagement survey activity where he offered suggestions for three things within the School of Dentistry that he thought could be improved.

“You have everybody here, including the leaders of the departments, and they’re really listening to me and taking notes,” Webster says. “Having my thoughts be valued like that by some of the best minds in Birmingham is something I cherished. To come here and have a full day set for this is going to make the School even better.”

SOD assistant professor Emerson Martins, DDS, Ph.D., agrees. He says the biggest benefit of the EXCEL meetings like this one is the opportunity to hear so many different perspectives from people who have various roles within the School of Dentistry.

“It’s an excellent environment,” Martins says. “We are trying to address the issues, then figure out solutions. You have all these different ideas that people are giving for how to treat patients better, increase communication, improve parking, everything. We hear from everybody, then use all that in the right way to make the UAB School of Dentistry an even better place, especially for the patients.”

Over the years, the EXCEL Program has focused on several areas such as clinical/calibration, pedagogy, information technology, safety, diversity/cultural competence, research/scholarship, strategic planning, and personal development. Sample topics have included:

  • Communications and Listening Skills
  • Teambuilding
  • Disability Support Services
  • Time Management Skills
  • Work/Life Balance
  • Conflict Resolution and Constructive Feedback

Of course, these topics and many more also are addressed during the regular on-campus programs. But Hooten says there is added value to having the EXCEL gathering in a big facility, where people can interact and important questions can be asked and answered by a larger group.

“It’s good to just reset and have everyone come together and discuss what our goals are,” Hooten says. “It’s gives us time to just sit and ask, ‘What do you think about this? What can we do to help?’ You get a lot of brainstorming and different perspectives on how can we reach our goals together, so we can all be on the same page moving forward. Because unity is so important.”

That unity was on full display during the EXCEL meeting through team-building discussions and exercises, action plans, engagement activities and – perhaps the key to it all – simply spending time with fellow members of the UAB School of Dentistry.

“The value of this is we all got together to show our leadership and become a team,” dental assistant Daijia Rembert says. “It was a really good day.”