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50 Years of Graduate Dental Hygiene Education

By Anne Gwozdek, Dental Hygiene Graduate Program Director

In the early 1960’s Dr. Dorothy Hard, director of the Dental Hygiene Program at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, was doing what all outstanding leaders do — plan for the future.

The undergraduate hygiene program was a little over 40 years old.  But there was an urgent need for well-qualified professionals who would be able to teach in the growing number of dental hygiene programs that were being offered nationwide.  Who better to develop a new educational program than the University of Michigan?

Being the forward thinker she was, Hard also realized that this type of education and training should be at the graduate level.  At that time there was only one graduate dental hygiene program, at Columbia University.  Hard wanted to also establish a Master of Science in Dental Hygiene (MSDH) program at Michigan.

Planning and developing a curriculum leading to the Master of Science degree in dental hygiene from U-M is a fascinating story as documents at the Bentley Library reveal.

Addressing Major Issues

Hard understood the initial need for support from Dean Dr. William Mann, and other school administrators. However, graduate programs at U-M were administered by the Rackham Graduate School, so she also sought their approval. Beyond administrative buy-in, there was another critical issue — how to cover the costs for the new program. 

In a bold move, Mann and Hard requested funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. On July 16, 1963, U-M received word that the Foundation would provide $98,272 over four years to cover a portion of faculty salaries and fringe benefits.  Annual fellowships for four students were also included. Each student would receive $275/month for one year to cover living expenses plus tuition for three semesters of study.

In its letter to the School of Dentistry announcing the funding, the Foundation wrote, “We are pleased to cooperate with the University of Michigan in this interesting program, which is being developed in response to a critical need in the field of dental hygiene education.  Best wishes are extend for success in this new program for the training of dental hygiene teachers.”

The First Class

The Graduate Program in Dental Hygiene Education was launched in the fall of 1964, under Hard’s direction.  This first group of students graduated in 1965.  The initial curriculum included courses in research methods/writing, statistics, educational methodology, directed teaching of clinical dental hygiene, histology, physiology, bacteriology, and dental public health.

The 30 credit hour program could be completed in two semesters.  However, provisions were made for students to remain for a summer session to complete the required thesis. 

Tuition was $175 per semester for Michigan residents and $500 for non-residents.  For the summer session residents paid $100 and non-residents were charged $269.  

Dr. Ellen Leinonen (RDH, PhD, anatomy) taught most of the graduate dental hygiene courses.  Dr. Major Ash, professor of periodontics at the School of Dentistry, oversaw the students’ thesis research. After the first class of four students received their master’s degrees, each returned to the classroom as instructors:

·      Martha Anne Ackerman from Indianapolis, a clinical instructor at the Indiana University (IU) School of Dentistry, returned to I-U to teach.

·      Joan Gardner from Winter Park, Florida, a dental health educator with the Orange County Health Department, went on to teach at Palm Beach Junior College.

·      Karen Ross from Lake Worth, Florida, a dental hygiene instructor at Palm Beach Junior College, taught at St. Petersburg Junior College.

·      Sandra Sonner from Billings, Montana, a practicing clinical dental hygienist, taught at the University of Nebraska.

Dean Mann was proud of this first graduating class.  Reporting on the progress of the program to the Kellogg Foundation, he wrote, “There is a great demand for these young women as was attested to by the numerous letters received from various parts of the country asking for dental hygiene teachers with graduate degrees.”

The following years were equally successful for the MSDH program.  In 1968, enrollment increased to five students.  Annual fellowships remained available for students. 

By 1968, as the Kellogg Foundation funding was winding down, dental hygiene received a graduate fellowships grant through the Allied Health Professions Act allowing the program to continue.  It offered students tuition coverage and a living stipend. 

From Dorothy Hard to Pauline Steele

In 1968, Hard retired and Pauline Steele became director of dental hygiene and director of the MSDH Program.   She and Dean Mann requested the Class of 1969 evaluate the first semester of their experiences in the new program and make recommendations for the second semester.  

In response, the students requested more opportunities to teach, especially pre-clinical instruction.  They also urged more focus on educational leadership, especially in dental hygiene program administration.  Mann affirmed that the MSDH would continue indefinitely and that its existence “lent greater stature and dignity to a group that was continuing to grow intellectually.”

By 1970, changes in the curriculum had been made. The program now consisted of a core of required courses along with an offering of electives allowing students to enroll in a specific area of interest such as geriatrics, dental public health, education, hospital dentistry or oral biology. 

In addition to preparing dental hygiene educators, the curriculum also expanded to prepare graduates to become administrators, researchers, and health promoters.  Students had the option of pursuing their degree on a full- or part-time basis.

From 1988 to Today

In 1988, Pauline Steele retired and Wendy Kerschbaum became director of the dental hygiene program and, like Hard and Steele, director of the MSDH Program.  In the early 1990’s, Joan Keevil was director of the graduate program and was succeeded by Karen Ridley.

In 2005, the school asked Rackham to expand the total number of credit hours of the MSDH program to 36 and lengthen it to two years. 

The reason was straightforward.  Dental hygiene as a profession continued to grow.  The graduate program’s curriculum needed to reflect this and prepare graduates to meet new responsibilities and challenges.   Changes to the master’s program included enhancing clinical and didactic student teaching and offering students the opportunity to become involved in clinical research.

Dental Hygiene Education on the Internet

Five years later, after the successful launching of the U-M Dental Hygiene Degree Completion E-Learning Program, thoughts turned to also offering an online delivery option for the MSDH Program. 

In 2012, with Rackham’s approval, the first four students enrolled in this 36 credit hour, two-year, part-time program.  The online program allowed hygienists anywhere in the nation to obtain a master’s degree, remain employed and not have to move close to Ann Arbor.  The third cohort of online students began their studies in September 2014 with the on-campus option still remaining available.

In the fall of 2013, Anne Gwozdek was appointed program director, succeeding Karen Ridley.

“Anne was the perfect choice to become director of the master’s program,” said Janet Kinney, dental hygiene program director.  “Anne helped develop our E-Learning Degree Completion Program and directed it from its beginning in January 2008.”

Kinney said U-M dental hygiene graduates “are outstanding professionals with a bright and promising future.”  She added they have “been extremely successful in teaching and research as well as in obtaining fellowships or scholarships from Rackham and funding from other organizations,” including the U-M Center for the Education of Women, the American Dental Education Association, and the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, and the school’s Christine P. Klausner Graduate Student Scholarship.

By January 2015, the MSDH Program had 66 graduates, 25 of whom obtained their entry-level dental hygiene education at U-M. Graduates have advanced to positions in academia, research, and administration proving the value of the program beyond what Dr. Hard and Dean Mann might have envisioned.