by J.L. Martello

The Pitt School of Dental Medicine held their white coat ceremony for their first year students at Scaife Hall Sept. 15. The emblematic white coat ceremony is held for incoming first year dental medicine and dental hygiene students.

PROUD STUDENTS—Erika Andrews, Jocelyn Ball, Chijioke Eseonu, Barbara Anne Graham and Kendra Sims (Photo by J.L. Martello).

Once a student receives their white coat they can then study to get their degree in dental medicine after completing their undergrad studies. Thirty-six dental hygiene and 80 dental students received their white coats. There were students from 18 states and six different countries. Four women and one man were African-American.

During the ceremony there were speakers who welcomed and explained the school to the students and guests. Some of the speakers were Dr. Thomas Braun, dean of the school of Dental Medicine; Dr. William Spruill, president, Pennsylvania Dental Association; Dr. Michael Dobos, president, Dental Alumni Association; Dr. Mary Marazita, associate dean for research and Angelina Riccelli, director of dental hygiene.

“As an important part of a major research university, our students are provided with unique opportunities,” Braun said. “Our faculty, staff and students contribute to a unique mix of support. You will experience a system of reinforcement and support here that really does signify family.”

Approximately three times the number of students they can accept apply to the dental school each year. The five African-American students accepted are Jocelyn Ball, Erika Andrews, Barbara Anne Graham, Kendra Sims and Chijioke Eseonu.

“I wanted to be in a position where I could help people and I know that people have to deal with a lot of insecurities so I feel if you are comfortable with your smile it will be apparent when you talk to other people at the workplace or anywhere else,” said Andrews, 19, from McKeesport.

“I didn’t realize there was such a lack of African-Americans until I got into my orientation and I only saw a few Black faces. However, I am happy I chose this profession so I can shine through and so Black people are in everything,” said Ball of Penn Hills.

“What got me into dentistry was my sister had cancer as a child and she developed a huge bulge that protruded behind her left eye socket. My parents took her to see the pediatrician and other family doctors and none could diagnose her and it was not until we went for a routine dentist checkup that they found something wrong with the x-ray and the dentist then immediately referred my sister to an oncologist. So if it wasn’t for our dentist who knows what would have happened,” said Barbara Anne Graham of Wingdale, N.Y., who wants to go into pediatrician dentistry. “We are not represented as we should be. There are qualified African-American and Spanish students. But I think that if you go into the inner-city neighborhoods and encourage these children—a lot of them have the potential but they don’t have the right mentors in their lives to help them and I feel if I go into those communities and help the people and help young children—then I could compel them to pursue a medical career.”

Eseonu of Richmond, Va., the only Black male, is studying dental medicine. When talking about why he got into dental medicine, Chijioke replied, “I wanted to work directly with people and dentistry offers a really intimate way to work with and get to know people.” Talking about the lack of African-Americans in the field of Dentistry Chijioke said, “I think it’s getting better over time and it starts with someone like me kind of being present within the community and letting people know who are interested in getting into health sciences know that you can do it if you’re African-American or not and so the more people like myself get out into the community spread the word about how good it is, the better it will be in the long run and I am positive about that.”

Sims, who grew up in Ohio but now lives in Penn Hills, is planning on going to the armed services.

Sims has been in higher learning for the past 10 years and wanted to do something different so she got into dentistry. “It’s definitely a way to give back to the community and help those who may not be able to get health care. That is my biggest reason for doing this is—to give back to the community,” she said. When talking about Pitt University, Sims said, “The people at Pitt are very much into embracing a diverse student body, I have looked at other schools but I felt welcomed here because I have had faculty members embrace me and tell me we will take care of you while you’re here and we will teach you everything you need to know to be a great practitioner. The focus on community service is really important to me and they do that here at Pitt.”

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