Calculating the Value of our Partnerships with Foundations

Dr. Richard Valachovic
In this month’s letter, ADEA President and CEO Dr. Rick Valachovic describes how partnering with foundations has amplified ADEA’s influence and strengthened dental education.

The relentless pursuit of strategic alliances. If you’ve heard me say it once, you’ve probably heard me say it dozens of times. RPSA (or “ripsaw” as I’ve come to refer to it) has been my longstanding mantra. Why? You need only look at what ADEA has accomplished in the last decade for your answer. It’s no exaggeration to say that through our alliances, we have transformed good ideas into effective practices and helped to spread them throughout our community and beyond.

ADEA has forged invaluable partnerships with professional associations, corporations, advocacy groups, the research community and a group of visionary foundations. ADEA’s partnerships with these foundations provide perhaps the best example of how strategic alliances further our work, and it’s the example I want to focus on in this month’s letter.

By now, I hope you are familiar with at least two of the foundations—the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (Kellogg)—that have underwritten several of our most far-reaching programs. These two entities have made a sustained commitment to support our efforts to recruit and foster a healthy pipeline of future dentists, dental hygienists and faculty members, and their investments in our Association have paid incredible dividends.

Let me start with RWJF and its ambitious mission: to improve the health and health care of all Americans. Early in its 40-year history, the foundation determined that building the health care workforce was one important means of achieving its overall goal. Since 1972, the foundation has financed a series of scholarship programs in a variety of health professions, some of which continue to this day. In fact, I currently sit on the national advisory committee for New Careers in Nursing (NCIN), a scholarship program of RWJF and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

In keeping with the foundation’s goal of reducing disparities in access to care, many RWJF scholarship programs target minority and low-income students, and some of them have been available to dental students. While RWJF continues to fund scholarships, it concluded early on that it needed to do more to grow and diversify the health professions workforce. Following the release in 2000 of the first report on oral health by a U.S. surgeon general, the foundation began developing a strategy on oral health. They were impressed by a program that Columbia University College of Dental Medicine was running in Harlem at that time and came to see dental education as part of the solution to the problem of access to health care services for underserved populations.

Working with Dr. Allan Formicola, then Dean at Columbia, the foundation championed a national initiative to expand community-based education that became known as the Dental Pipeline program. The national program office was established at Columbia University and Dr. Howard Bailit of the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine was tapped to join Allan in leading the effort. In its initial phase, the program awarded $19 million in grants to dental schools to develop community-based clinical education programs and recruit underrepresented minority and low-income students to dentistry.

Despite the magnitude of the funding, the foundation was not able to fund every school that wanted to take part. RWJF reached out to folks at The California Endowment, which shared the foundation’s interest in expanding access to care in underserved communities. The endowment stepped in to support the effort by funding four California dental schools to participate alongside the University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry (UCSF SOD), which had received an award from RWJF.

ADEA was enlisted as an early partner in the Dental Pipeline program and charged with administering a complementary $1 million scholarship program funded by Kellogg to the 15 participating schools. Then in 2008, RWJF opened a second round of funding to replicate the Dental Pipeline’s best practices, and another eight schools received grants to focus on either community-based education or student recruitment.

Today, several dozen more schools stand to benefit from the Dental Pipeline program through the National Learning Institute, funded by RWJF and jointly overseen by the University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry and ADEA. The institute is providing training, technical assistance and financial support to dental schools that want to develop new community partnerships to further their educational and recruitment goals.

While the first cohort of Dental Pipeline grantees made significant progress in establishing community-based clinical education programs, it became apparent early on that progress in diversifying their student bodies had stalled. An analysis of applicant data indicated that more students from the targeted groups were applying to dental school, but that minority and low-income enrollments remained flat. In response, RWJF turned its attention to admissions committees and asked what they could do differently to ensure that more of these desirable candidates would gain admission.

The Dental Pipeline national program office recruited a cadre of student affairs/admissions officers, including Dr. Charles Alexander of UCSF SOD, Dr. Dennis A. Mitchell of Columbia and Dr. Dave Brunson, then of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry, to pilot a workshop for admissions committees. The goal was to help committees move away from their sometimes sole reliance on test scores and grades and start evaluating candidates holistically.

The workshop generated much enthusiasm, and prompted RWJF to consider ways to sustain it over the long term. The foundation invited ADEA to submit a proposal to run a train-the-trainer workshop to enlist others in presenting admissions committee workshops, and later funded ADEA’s creation of an online resource where schools could access workshop content at will. Under the leadership of Dave Brunson, who had become Associate Director for ADEA’s Center for Equity and Diversity, and Dr. Anne Wells, Senior Vice President for Educational Pathways, 36 admissions workshops were conducted between 2004 and 2012.

The trust engendered in the course of working on these projects led to a third collaboration with RWJF in 2006 that I have written about many times in this letter: the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP). The foundation first established a summer program for medical students in 1988 with a goal of preparing students from underrepresented minority groups to successfully compete for admission to medical school. In 2005, the program was opened to predental students on a pilot basis, and when the foundation decided to institute the program’s predental component more widely, RWJF enlisted ADEA to work with the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which has administered the summer premedical program since the start.

Currently, nine dental schools host the SMDEP program. Since the program began accepting predental students in 2006, 1,644 have participated. Data gathered primarily from the classes that have completed their undergraduate studies indicate that, to date, a quarter of SMDEP’s predental graduates have been accepted to dental school.

While a full evaluation of the program is still in its early stages, we can conclude that our strategic alliance with AAMC, like our partnership with RWJF, continues to bear fruit. Our joint work on SMDEP laid a strong foundation on which to build another collaborative venture, the inclusion of dental curricular resources on the online MedEdPORTAL site, first created by AAMC. We have also been stalwart allies in promoting interprofessional education (IPE), and last year we collaborated to produce the AAMC/ADEA Dental Loan Organizer and Calculator, which is helping our students better manage their debt.

It is striking to me that foundations, which could invest in improving oral health in many ways, have chosen to make multi-year, multi-million dollar investments in dental education—supporting the role our schools play as safety net providers and our efforts to diversify the workforce.

“Foundations have been sensitive to the need for greater diversity within dental schools in order to achieve our mutual goal of serving the oral health needs of vulnerable communities,” Dr. Jeanne Sinkford, ADEA’s Senior Scholar in Residence, has observed.

Jeanne has worked with me over the years to cultivate ADEA’s relationships with several foundations. In a recent conversation she expressed her gratitude that the resulting partnerships have been instrumental in furthering our diversity and inclusion agenda. “These partnerships have allowed ADEA to be visionary in how it influences schools to create more diverse academic environments,” she said, and I agree.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation may be best known at present for its leadership role in advancing innovative, community-based solutions to addressing oral health disparities, but for more than a decade it has been funding a different strategy with the same aim: creating an oral health workforce that reflects the diversity of society as a whole. Toward this end, in 2004 the foundation put its muscle behind a major effort to improve access by diversifying the academic workforce.

The ADEA Minority Dental Faculty Development (ADEA MDFD) program has assisted dental schools and allied dental programs in developing academic and community partnerships that are changing the cultural climate on our campuses and gradually enlarging the presence of underrepresented minorities in the faculty ranks. A “grow-your-own” philosophy, which encourages institutions to look within their own communities and cultivate talent, undergirds this collaborative effort.

The multi-faceted MDFD program engages students in high school, college and professional programs with a range of opportunities that deepen their knowledge of the oral health professions and develop the skills they will need to pursue academic careers. Exposure programs and career clubs, academic support and enrichment, research opportunities, leadership training and, above all, mentoring are some of the tools grantees have employed to strengthen the academic pipeline.

MDFD is emblematic of the long view that Kellogg and ADEA’s other foundation partners have taken in addressing the access issue. The program, which has created living laboratories on many of our campuses where recruitment and faculty development strategies can be tested, is now in its ninth year, and current funding will continue until 2015. Through MDFD’s dental school initiatives alone, the program has identified 358 potential faculty members. More recently, grants have focused on developing faculty for allied programs and careers in research.

In the mid-2000s, several other foundations also provided generous gifts to support two other ADEA programs aimed at diversifying the workforce. The Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, which dedicates its resources to advancing health professions education, funded the creation of a flexible seven-year dental curriculum through a program entitled Moving Forward: Bridging the Gap. The Macy grant allowed three regional consortia of minority-serving undergraduate institutions and nearby dental schools to develop innovative programs to speed the entry of underrepresented minority students into dentistry.

The ADA Foundation provided the funds to launch the Academic Dental Careers Fellowship Program. In its first two years, 22 U.S. and Canadian students attending dental schools or allied dental programs completed fellowships and indicated their intention to pursue academic careers. In 2007, the American Association for Dental Research, along with the newly created ADEAGies Foundation, stepped in to continue funding the program.

For decades, the Gies Foundation, which honors the legacy of dental education pioneer Dr. William J. Gies, was a small, private entity based in New York City. Although respected for its grant making, the foundation had limited impact or visibility outside of New York. In 2002, the foundation’s directors were looking for a way to extend their grant making to the larger dental education community. They approached ADEA, and we agreed to partner with the Gies Foundation to form a public charity, the ADEAGies Foundation, which now serves as the philanthropic arm of our Association.

In addition to hosting the prestigious William J. Gies Awards for Vision, Innovation and Achievement, the ADEAGies Foundation awards scholarships, fellowships and project grants that recognize, support and encourage a wide range of educational, research and leadership activities related to dental education.

All of the collaborations described above have generated an enormous amount of good will, which in turn has yielded over $40 million dollars in direct and collaborative funding for many of our community’s vital endeavors during the past decade. While this financial capital has given a huge boost to our Association and its members, it’s hard to calculate the full value of ADEA’s foundation partnerships, which equals far more than the cumulative dollar value of the individual gifts received. ADEA’s strategic alliances with foundations have acted as (to borrow a term from the military) a force multiplier, magnifying the impact of our initiatives many times over. Individual schools have always done some of these things well, but by allowing us to refine and disseminate effective policies and practices, our grant-funded initiatives are reshaping the culture of dental education.

I want to mention one more program that exemplifies the synergies that can occur when our Association works in partnership with others. Almost a decade ago, a small group of forward-looking individuals came up with the idea to create a website that would acquaint minority students with careers in the health professions. This brainchild took shape as, but early on, the site’s survival was in doubt. A source of solid funding to build its content resources had yet to be identified; then a change of leadership at its parent association threatened to leave the site without a home

Fortunately for everyone, the Macy Foundation and ADEA came to the rescue, with one providing sufficient funds to develop the website’s content and the other taking responsibility for providing it with a home. Since then, both RWJF and Kellogg have contributed to the site’s expansion, as did the Institute for Oral Health, and today the site is alive and flourishing. It showcases information about scores of careers in the health professions, receives an average of almost 15,000 visitors each day and ranks number one in searches of health career information on the Web.

The power of these relationships also resonates in the work ADEA and its sister health professions associations have done to advance IPE through the Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC). IPE is a strategic priority of both RWJF and Macy, and both foundations have been cheerleaders for the collaborative’s initiatives.

Thanks to the hard work of our members and staff, foundations see that ADEA can be counted on to sustain the initiatives it has taken under its umbrella and that ultimately, these become part of the fabric of our Association. As we move forward, I anticipate that the bonds we have formed with our supporters, and the bonds they have formed with one another, will continue to multiply the impact of our work in the years ahead.

1 comment
  1. Daryl Styner said:

    I think it is great about what is happening in the funding for additional scholarship programs for our dental students. The generosity of one major contributor has attracted others to invest in the future generations of Dentistry. Heaven knows how badly these students need this assistance to pursue their dreams. However, many scholarships, as generous as they might be, do not always cover many other additional costs which still makes the overall educational experience out of the reach for many students. In addition, that is still not addressing the direct cause-and-effect, which are the steep increases in tuition across the nation at our dental schools. I think all schools must re-examine their priorities and spending patterns that are major contributing factors in this tuition crisis, which may jeopardize the dreams for many highly qualified and motivated students, and become the downfall to our own profession’s future generations. I sincerely hope that schools can re-evaluate, and self-examine themselves, in this goal to resolve the tuition crisis which faces everyone right now.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: