IN 1973, CONNIE WHITE (D.D.S. ’81) came to UMKC to start college, and she decided to stay. And stay. Now, 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 for 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, Jerry,” she said.
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 record keeping to X-rays.
“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. A lot of that work has involved people skills as much as dental knowledge.
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.” 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.
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.”