UMKC Dental Alumni Association Hosts the New Students Welcome Game at “The K”

The UMKC Dental Alumni Association once again hosted an annual night at “The K” complete with tailgate and the game, which featured the Kansas City Royals hosting the Cleveland Indians.  Guests of honor were the DDS Class of 2024 and Dental Hygiene Class of 2022 as well as the DDS Class of 2024 and Dental Hygiene Class of 2022 who sadly missed out on the tradition when it was postponed because of pandemic-related limitations last year.  There was a great turnout students, staff, faculty and alums, and while the Royals lost, the event was a lot of fun!

Find photos here.


School of Dentistry and Health Sciences Students Enjoy Annual Lunch…on the Lawn

Students from all UMKC Health Sciences schools enjoyed the annual Lunch on the Lawn and Campus Connections event, Wednesday, September 1, sponsored by the university Office of Student Involvement. The weather was great for the event held in the open common area adjoining the University’s Health Sciences Building. In addition to a hearty picnic style buffet lunch, attendees also had the opportunity visit with campus resources and organizations at the Campus Connections Fair.

Photos here.


Connie White Caps Off Distinguished UMKC Career

In 1973, Connie White came to UMKC to start college, and she decided to stay. And stay. Now, on Aug. 31, she will retire from the School of Dentistry, her professional home for all the decades in between.

“I left my home in southeast Missouri when I was 18 and moved to Kansas City,“ said White, who earned a chemistry degree in 1977 and her doctor of dental surgery degree in 1981. “After eight years of school, I joined the faculty and did my graduate work in oral medicine and oral biology while I was teaching. I’ve taught 40 years, so that’s 48 years total I’ve been here.”

Now she is ready to step back, savor her accomplishments and memories, and take stock in what’s next.

“I have three grown children and two grandchildren, and I’m looking forward to spending time with them and with my husband,” she said. “We would like to travel more, too, once the pandemic allows.”

And what will White miss the most about the School of Dentistry?

“The people,” she said. “People make the school special.”

White figures that over the years those people have included more than 10,000 students, “and at some point things tipped,” she said. “I started out teaching with faculty who had taught me, and then I was teaching with people who had been my students.”

White also has seen fascinating changes in dentistry and dental education. The level and variety of services offered to patients have advanced greatly, she said, and the age of digital dentistry has brought improvements in everything from recordkeeping to X-rays and surgical precision.

“I think we do better in treating the whole patient, too,” White said, “improving overall health and not just dental health.”

White has served the school and its faculty, students and patients in many roles, including chair of the faculty and chair of the Department of General Dentistry. Much of that work has involved people skills as much as dental knowledge.

“I was the second child in my family, so I often was the one making peace and smoothing things over,” White said. “And at the school I often have been the one making sure everyone feels heard so conflicts get resolved.”

Dental students have changed over time, too, White said.

“When I got here I was one of 10 women in a class of 160. I also stood out when I joined the faculty,” she said. “Now the classes are about 50-50 men and women, and students and our faculty are much more diverse in many ways.” Different backgrounds, perspectives and life experiences have made the school stronger, she said, and it has been gratifying to see that.

White said the school also teaches and nurtures students in a more comprehensive way than it did when she arrived. Rather than just excellent clinical training, she noted, students also can get more emotional and financial support.

“I think we also do better teaching how to keep learning,” she said, “which is so important because dentistry keeps changing.”

White also has made her mark nationally in dentistry and dental education, often through professional associations. In her last full week at UMKC, she jetted off to South Carolina for a board meeting of the national Academy of General Dentistry, which she served in many roles leading up to being its president in 2020.

“It’s our first in-person board meeting in a year and a half,” she said. “I was the academy’s pandemic president, and my year as past president will be up in November.”

The pandemic also presented great challenges at the school, and White was an integral part of then-Dean Marsha Pyle’s management team.

“We thought it was difficult closing the school’s clinics,” she said. “We found out if was even more challenging to re-open,” juggling everything from supply chains and new safety equipment and protocols to resuming patient care and hands-on student learning.

White said she and her husband, Jerry White, a now-retired engineer for Black & Veatch, have always tried to focus on what needs to be done in the day ahead, and to stop and celebrate their victories and achievements at the end of each week. That approach has served them well, she said, even during a pandemic.

A silver lining to fulfilling school functions during her Academy of General Dentistry presidency, she said, was that Lance Godley, D.D.S., took on some duties well before White retired.

“Dean Pyle asked Dr. Godley to do more, to help me while I was president,” White said, “so he’s the perfect person to take over” as interim associate dean of clinical programs.

And, White said, the school might not have seen the last of her.

“I want to take plenty of time away and let everything settle in. But I might consider teaching again, or doing some fundraising for the school,” she said. “They say you have to friend-raise before you can fund-raise, and I’ve made a lot of friends and contacts over the years.”

Find photo highlights from her time at the School of Dentistry here.




14 School of Dentistry Faculty Trained to be Vaccinators

THANKS to School of Pharmacy colleagues (from left) Steven Stoner, Cydney McQueen, Leslie Cooney (P4 student) and Cameron Lindsey for taking time out of their busy schedules to train 14 School of Dentistry faculty to be vaccinators. Tackling the pandemic has been a true Health Sciences Campus collaboration, from nursing faculty helping train more than 100 dental students to be vaccinators to this latest training of some of our faculty.

Photos here.

Ready to Roll

The DDS Class of 2025 and DH Class of 2023 are ready to dive into their courses after wrapping up orientation on Friday with faculty panels, a joint presentation on the school’s culture of diversity and respect, and information on wider UMKC resources such as libraries and counseling services.

Precious K. Hollins traveled farther than most of her classmates to be a part of the School of Dentistry. “I am from the Mississippi Delta and got my undergraduate degree at Jackson State University. I am feeling very excited to be mentally stretched throughout these next four years.”

Though she’s from Mississippi, Hollins said she spent a great deal of her childhood in the St. Louis area, and STAHR Scholars Dentistry, a 10-week summer program that develops culturally diverse dentistry candidates, also helped her decide on UMKC.

Though the program had to go online because of the pandemic, she said, “STAHR made an amazing first impression on me. I virtually met some people who have been integral in my dental journey. It was nice to receive unconditional support from someone who never met me in person.”

Hollins summed up: “Dentistry is a complex challenge, and I love a good challenge!”

DH students also were happy to wrap up orientation and ready to start their courses. One DH student, Cameron Nhotharack, said, “I am feeling excitement heading into dental hygiene school. It’ll be a new experience and I am looking forward to learning more about dentistry.”

Nhotharack said she always wanted to work in health care, and dental hygiene piqued her interest the most when she did her career search. Nhotharack, a transfer student from Johnson County Community College, wanted to stay near her family and said she chose UMKC because unlike other area programs it offered a bachelor’s degree.

Another student, Francisco Flores from Lawrence, Kansas, typified the excitement of concluding orientation and heading into the school year.

“Since I was a junior in high school, I have seen the UMKC School of Dentistry as the place for me. What had always seemed a ways away is here. Dental school is no longer my future, but my reality, and I can’t wait to begin!”

Find photos here.

Getting Down to Business

After a Wednesday filled with photographs, computer synchronizing and mask fitting, the DDS Class of 2025 and DH Class of 2023 got better acquainted on Thursday and received a wealth of vital information.

The School of Dentistry’s new dean, Steven E. Haas, D.M.D, L.L.B., M.B.A., greeted the classes, as did Dr. Liz Kaz, associate dean for Academic Affairs, and Professor Tanya Mitchell, chair of the Division of Dental Hygiene and Richie Bigham, assistant dean for Student Programs.

Several information sessions followed on topics including curriculum, student services, building safety, school policies, opportunities to participate in student clubs and organizations, “learning how to learn” and handling their finances.

As the students got to know one another better, some talked about how relieved they had been last school year when they learned they had been accepted. A few other students mentioned that they had bypassed those anxious moments by using the school’s RAP — Reserved Admissions Program.

The DDS and DH programs have reserved admissions, which allow top Missouri and Kansas residents, to apply for a reserved seat in a future DDS class while they are in their sophomore year of college, or to apply for a future DH spot when they are high school seniors. Accepted students must meet criteria for academics and service and then can bypass the tradition admissions process.

“I grew up in Overland Park and have been talking to the dental school about the RAP program since high school,” said Michael Gimotty III. “That definitely took out a lot of stress from this whole process and made everything much simpler.”

Gimotty, who got his undergraduate degree in finance from Oral Roberts University, said he chose dentistry “because I really want to be able to help people in a practical way and bring them healing,” and UMKC because of its solid clinical base. “I see dentistry as one of the best ways to do this and am excited to be able to use these skills in the future.”

Among the new DH students, Kansas City native Shairry Lene admitted being “super nervous” to start school but said being admitted through the DH Reserved Admissions Program “took a huge weight off my shoulders since this program is so competitive! I had to keep up with grades, shadowing, and volunteering to continue in the program.”

She added: “What drew me to dental hygiene was the flexibility and being able to help others. However, I am starting to realize how I also want to be an advocate for this field and share the importance of hygiene, which so many know little about.”

Orientation will conclude Friday with faculty panels, a joint presentation on the school’s culture of diversity and respect, and information on wider UMKC resources such as libraries and counseling services.

Photos here.

Meet our New Dean!

As Steven E. Haas, D.M.D., J.D., M.B.A., begins his tenure as dean of the School of Dentistry, he brings a can-do philosophy and a wealth of experience in dentistry and academic leadership. He recently answered a few questions to help UMKC students, faculty, staff and alumni get to know him.

Q. What’s the biggest challenge or obstacle you’ve had to face?

A. My father passed away unexpectedly when I was 20. We had very little money, no insurance. My father was a New York City taxi cab driver, and I knew the business. I thought about dropping out of dental school, driving a cab for a year or two to get us on more stable financial footing, and then going back. Luckily I had a very strong mother, a wise one who refused to let me do that. She said there was no guarantee I’d go back. “You stay in.” And she made it through somehow, for my brother and me.

That’s the thing about obstacles. They’re obstacles until you move them. And it may take time and lots of work, sometimes more resources, but they can be moved.

Q. Besides dentistry, you have earned degrees in law and business administration. Why did you keep going back and adding to your knowledge?

A. It’s funny, because my brother is a prosthodontist, graduated first in his dental class. There’s no doubt that he’s the more intelligent of us two. But I have a greater drive for more knowledge; I’ve always been interested in why things are reasoned out the way they are.

Even as I finished dental school and my residency and specialty degree, I was always interested in a law degree. I did some work with a lobbyist on New York state legislation, and work on dental malpractice insurance costs and reviewing cases in which disciplinary action against dentists was considered. When my mentor, a dentist attorney, said he had never regretted adding his law degree, I went back to school, and really it was one of my best experiences.

Q. And the M.B.A.?

A. I had management responsibilities – director of hospital residency at University Hospital Stony Brook in New York, and then directing clinics at Nova Southeastern University after a move to Florida. And I realized I had to learn how to deal with people and move people into the direction that we felt the school should go. I needed good leadership training, and my M.B.A. gave me a ton of skills I still use in leadership style, change management and conflict resolution.

Q. Do you have family?

A. I have four children – ages 30 and 27, with my first wife, and 10 and 7 with my current wife, Luana Oliveira. She’s a dentist, too, from Brazil. We met at Nova Southeastern, and she’s in Florida now in an advanced educational graduate dentistry program. She’s been in academia for a long time, but she’s still learning a lot in this program and wants to get her American dental degree.

Q. What do you like to do outside work?

A. I have three passions that I like to spend time on. I’ve been a runner since high school, and I love running, though one hip doesn’t cooperate as much as it used to. And I’ve gotten into weightlifting, so I enjoy fitness a lot. I also like alternative progressive metal rock – bands like Shinedown, Stone Sour and Halestorm. Not the sort of music most people listen to, but it’s interesting.

Q. And some of your hopes for the School of Dentistry?

A. You can feel the tradition at this more than century-old institution, in its commitments to research, diversity and inclusion, and exceptional clinical instruction. You can feel it in the deep involvement of alumni and dental associations, and support from its Rinehart Foundation. I’m excited to build on that record of achievement and hope to lead the school and its faculty, staff and students into the future. It’s gratifying as a manager to get everyone rowing in the same direction, and then to see others achieve great things.

About Dean Haas
Steven E. Haas comes to UMKC from the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry in Lincoln, where he served as associate dean for clinical affairs and interim chair of the Department of Adult Restorative Dentistry. He received his D.M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, his J.D. from Touro College Law Center in Huntington, New York, and his M.B.A. from the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida.

Dr. Connie White Honored by Colleagues and Friends

Dr. Connie L. White was honored recently at a reception hosted by colleagues and friends celebrating her upcoming retirement and service to the School of Dentistry and UMKC.

“Dr. White’s decision to retire from UMKC end of August 2021 comes as bitter-sweet news as certainly Dr. White will be greatly missed, but at the same time we are happy for her as she starts this next chapter and most definitely we are thankful for all she has done for the school and university, commented Interim Dean Russ Melchert. “I would like to add a personal note of thanks for all she has done in helping me and the SOD leadership during this leadership transition period for the school. Amazingly, Dr. White has been with UMKC for 48 years in total: 4 years of Undergraduate, 4 years of Dental School, and 40 years of teaching at the School of Dentistry”, he added.

Dr. White attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry in 1977. She then attended the UMKC School of Dentistry, receiving her DDS in 1981. Following graduation, Dr. White’s love of learning and the academic environment, lead to a position as an Associate Professor of Dentistry at her Alma Mater. During her early days with the University, she began her private General Dentistry practice, earned her Certificate in Oral Medicine, and quickly rose to leadership positions within the school. She held many and varied leadership roles at the school, including Team Coordinator, Chair of the Department of General Dentistry, chair of the dental school Faculty, and currently Director of Patient Relations. Most recently, Dr. White has served the school for the past two years as Interim Associate Dean for Clinical Programs.

When she began her teaching career, Dr. White became involved in the Missouri Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) as their liaison to the School of Dentistry. She went on to serve as their Membership Chair and moved through the Presidential line. She began her service nationally, on the AGD National Membership Council, where she served for 6 years, 3 of which she chaired. She was then elected by her Region VI colleagues as the Regional Director for two terms, then chaired that group for two years. She initiated her Trustee position in 2011, a position that she held for five years. She served on both the 2010 and 2015 Strategic Planning Task Forces and lead the President Appointed Dental Student Task Force for 3 years. She was elected as the National Secretary of the Academy in July of 2016, a position she held for 2 years. Dr. White served as the Vice President of the AGD and served as President of the Academy in the 2019-2020.

Dr. White holds Fellowships in the American College of Dentists, International College of Dentists, and the Academy of Dentistry International. She is active in the Missouri Academy of General Dentistry, American Dental Association, Missouri Dental Association, and the Greater KC Dental Society. She has received numerous awards and honors including among other recognitions the Clinician of the Year Award, numerous Teacher of the Year Awards, the Elmer F. Pierson Outstanding Teaching Award, the Gary L. Newmann Award for Faculty Leadership, the David L. Moore Faculty Development Award, and John Haynes Leadership Through Service Award.

In a recent announcement of her departure, Dean Melchert commented, “Congratulations Dr. White on an outstanding career at UMKC and congratulations on this momentous occasion. In her address to the Class of 2021, Dr. White mentioned how the School of Dentistry will “always leave a porch light on” for them, always welcoming them back to their alma mater. We can definitely say the porch light will always be on for you Dr. White.”

Dr. Lance Godley has accepted the position of Interim Associate Dean of Clinical Programs effective September 1, 2021. Dr. Godley most recently served as Vice Chair of the Restorative Clinical Sciences department adn Interim Director for Clinic Operations.

Enjoy photos from the reception here.

Big Event Celebrates Students’ Transition to Patient Care

In a ceremony both serious and celebratory, the Dentistry Class of 2023 and Dental Hygiene Class of 2022 on Friday marked their transition to clinical care learning. Symbolic of their beginning to treat patients, members of the DH class received new scrubs, and members of the DDS class received their white coats.

The white coat “is light in weight but heavy in responsibility,” said one of the faculty speakers, Dr. Lance Godley, who spends a lot of time helping first and second year students in the Pre-clinic Lab as interim director of clinical operations.

The ceremony, overseen by Dr. Keerthana Satheesh, chair of the Department of Periodontics, also included remarks from interim Dean Russ Melchert and Carley Havner of the DH faculty. Each class read its code of ethics, drawn up by the students, and each student was called to the stage to sign the code and receive scrubs or white coat.

The DH Class of 2022 was led in its oath by classmates AlexMarie Davis and Cinthia Ramos, who helped plan the ceremony along with Year 3 DDS students Ryann Burnett and Brooklyn Woodworth.

Before the ceremony, all four shared their thoughts on what transitioning to patient care meant to them, and how they had made it to this milestone.

Ramos, who worked as a dental assistant for three years to help pay her way, said, “Staying on top of my studies as I worked fulltime was especially challenging given that I had to maintain a high GPA to be considered as a candidate for this program. In the end, the sleepless nights lost to studying and homework were worth it, and I’m extremely excited and honored to be officially transitioning into the profession.”

For her part, Davis said, “Moving into the clinical part of my education makes me realize that I am no longer responsible for just myself, but for the care and management of the many patients I see. I am both excited and humbled to have this opportunity.

“As dental hygienists, we have the unique privilege of spending intimate, quality time with our patients once every 3-6 months. Not many health care providers have this opportunity. Working so closely with patients has taught me that being genuine and compassionate is very important in this profession.”

Ramos and Davis both thanked the faculty for the extra effort that got them to this point despite the pandemic. Davis said her “special thank you to the entire UMKC dental hygiene faculty” included recognizing Professor Christina Baker “for being a true superwoman this past year.”

For the DDS Class of 2023, Burnett said students from the Class of 2022 had provided a great experience this summer.

”For most of the summer, we have assisted the fourth-year dental students with their patients, which allows us to observe and then develop our own routine,” she said. “The fourth-year students have been great in providing excellent advice and answering my many questions. They understand because they were in my position just a year ago.”

And after two years of working in pre-clinic on plastic teeth and mannequins, she said, it’s exciting to advance to helping patients.

“I think the next year in clinic will present new challenges as we complete dental procedures for the first time, but with the help of our peers and faculty we can do it,” she said.

Woodworth added, “I have been looking forward to treating patients for as long as I can remember, and I cannot believe that the first two years of dental school are behind me. This is a huge step toward the career of my dreams, and I could not be happier.”

Woodworth, as an Arkansas resident, worked hard just to get to UMKC, her first-choice dental school. Arkansas has no dental schools, she explained, so she had to compete for a spot in the dental schools in surrounding states. “I am incredibly grateful to be attending a school that has prepared me so well to start treating patients,” she said.

Burnett and Woodworth each ticked off a long list of classmate friends who had gotten them through their first two years of dental school, and one name appeared on both of their lists: Edgardo “Eddie” Leiva.

“We closed down the library every night studying for the last two years,” Burnett said. “Without his feedback and assistance, I would not have acquired the hand skill I have today.”

Leiva, Woodworth added, “has been a stellar classmate who never fails to lend a helping hand in class, lab or life in general to any student who needs it, me included.”

The students also thanked the faculty for making it possible to be able to celebrate the transition to patient care in person with family and friends, something last year’s classes were not able to do.
Ramos summed up: “I’m extremely proud of our class. We’ve worked super hard to get where we are, and it has not been easy because of the circumstances with the pandemic. We’ve kept a positive outlook and continue working hard to achieve our goals.”

Candid photos from the event here.

Dental Class of 2023 student portraits

Dental Hygiene Class of 2022 portraits here.

UMKC School of Dentistry Will Offer COVID Vaccinations Beginning July 26

Vaccine effort targets low-income and underserved living in Kansas City’s east side

The UMKC School of Dentistry will collaborate with the School of Pharmacy to begin offering free COVID-19 vaccinations to patients visiting its dental clinics beginning July 26.

Melanie Simmer-Beck, Ph.D., R.D.H, chair of the dental school’s Department of Dental Public Health and Behavioral Sciences, said the project brings the two schools together to provide a community-based public health service.

The program is one of many UMKC efforts supported by a $5 million CARES grant from Jackson County to encourage low-income and underserved populations in Kansas City’s east side to receive the COVID vaccine.

“We felt it was important to offer vaccinations to School of Dentistry patients to be acting within the spirt of what this grant was intended to do,” Simmer-Beck said.

More than 1,000 of the dental clinic’s patients come from areas of Kansas City identified as part of the grant’s target audience with the intent of addressing vaccine hesitancy and health equities. Operating under COVID restrictions during the previous year, the dental clinics serviced more than 1,750 patient appointments and saw 576 individual patients who live in those targeted areas. When at full capacity, the dental school’s clinics serve more than 2,200 patients a week and are the largest provider of dental services in the states of Missouri and Kansas.

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