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Class of 2020 arrives

D1s navigate orientation, eye long and rewarding road ahead

The Class of 2020 stands in the Sindecuse Museum atrium for its official class photo on Day One.

Ann Arbor, Mich., July 7, 2016 – After years of imagining themselves as dentists, sometimes dating back to their days in high school, the 105 members of the School of Dentistry Class of 2020 arrived last week to get down to the business of making their dreams a reality.

Orientation Week was a full schedule of introductions, tours and tasks designed to efficiently launch the new students into their unique place in the school’s 141-year history of preparing dentists.  Some of their first-week experiences – like settling in to their work station and sorting dental instruments they’ve been assigned in the Simulation Lab, or being fitted for their lab coats – are familiar to generations of alums.  Other sessions on topics such as computer technology, social media etiquette, global public service and diversity are more recent and constantly-evolving requirements in the education of today’s dentists.

Encouragement from Administrators
“Hard work” may have been the most commonly used phrase during the week, both by students describing their expectations and by faculty and staff who peppered their presentations with an upbeat mix of advice and encouragement.

Orientation coordinator Dr. Renée E. Duff, assistant dean for student services, emphasized the select nature of the 105 students, who were admitted from more than 2,000 applicants.  Their average undergrad GPA was 3.65 at colleges and universities from California to North Carolina and from Canada to Alabama. Six have master’s degrees. Of the 44 women and 61 men in the class, 59 are from Michigan and 46 are from out-of-state. The average age is 23.

Second-year student and tour group leader Milad Karim
(in scrubs at left) talks with first-year students JiNa Kim (center)
and Wenshley Henry (right) during a lab tour.
Duff told the students that U-M faculty and staff are committed to joining them on what she called “this ride of a lifetime” and “a quest for success together.”

“You are surrounded by amazing faculty and support staff,” she said. “They’ve all been on this ride a few times, so don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help, because we’re excited to help you navigate the twists and turns. … We’ll play hard, we’ll work harder, we’ll support each other and reach out when needed, offering a helping hand at every opportunity.”

Dean Laurie McCauley, in providing an overview of U-M and some of its history leading up to its bicentennial next year, encouraged the D1 students to take advantage of the world-class university’s many offerings throughout the campus.  She noted that the university and School of Dentistry share many of the same goals, including two of the most important core missions of a public institution – serving the people and developing leaders.  Students will have many opportunities in those areas during their four years at the School of Dentistry, she said.

“Four years from now, in May of 2020, after a bit of hard work, some dedication, some more hard work, camaraderie with your classmates, an investment in your professional development, you are going to be here,” she said, showing a slide of a recent dentistry commencement.  “The four years are going to go by in the blink of your eye and you’re going to be putting your caps and gowns on. I can also tell you that these four years are going to be the best four years of your life.  You’re going to look back on this time and say, ‘Wow!’ ”

Advice from Upper Classmates
Two 2016 graduates, Alexis Omer and Spencer Crouch, gave the D1 class a Top Ten list of advice that was heavy on staying organized, planning ahead and using the Google Calendar program to chart every class requirement, deadline, test, quiz, lab, student organization activity and so forth.  “It’s really vital, there’s so much going on,” Omer said.  She also advised: “Don’t stress over the small stuff. It’s easier said than done, I know, but this is four years and if you’re stressing about every single quiz and exam, you’re just going to drive yourself into the ground.  So you really just have to do your best, know that you’re doing your best, and go with the flow.”

On her first day of dental school, Jayne Kessel stopped to show a classmate the photo of her father, James, in the Class of 1984 composite (lower right) in a hallway outside the auditorium where her own official portrait had just been taken. A close-up of James Kessel's class photo is inset at upper right.

Crouch emphasized the importance of having a life outside the dental school. “Keep yourself healthy, in all aspects of your life – mentally, physically, socially, spiritually,” he said. “Dental school is a lot harder if you’re not healthy. So make sure to make time for that and make time for yourself.”  He also pointed to the importance of teamwork and bonding with classmates.  “If you guys look around, these are going to be your friends and family for the next four years, whether you like it or not,” he said, drawing laughs. “Get to know them sooner rather than later.” He advised the students to work together and share study materials. Asked about the best Ann Arbor restaurants and grocery stores for those on a dental student budget, Crouch revealed his personal strategy: “As for eating out, I usually wait for my parents to come down.”

Several sessions dealt with computers, technology and social media. Dr. Lynn Johnson, associate dean for faculty affairs and institutional effectiveness, provided a short review to remind students about the simple but crucial need to create strong passwords and change them frequently.  Johnson, who supervises the Dental Informatics, prefers the term “passphrase.”  “A phrase is longer than a word and thus harder to hack,” she said. The computing services staff is receptive to suggestions for problems students may encounter. “If something is getting in the way of your productivity, and there’s a technology solution, don’t be shy about contacting me or someone in Dental Informatics,” she told the new students.

Second-year student Milad Karim (left) answers questions from D1
students Saif Ghanem (center) and Andrew Lefeber as they wait for
their portraits to be taken.
Milad Karim, a D2 who served as one of the group leaders during Day One, developed a quick rapport with the 25 or so students he led to their various stops during the afternoon. Karim fielded dozens of questions, many focused on the difficulty of classes and keeping up with coursework and projects.  At one point, as he waited with them in an auditorium where they were being photographed, he mused that only one year earlier he had been sitting, literally and figuratively, in exactly the same place as the new D1s, with the same questions and uncertainties.  Now, a year later, he said he felt like a different person who had absorbed a lot of information, worked hard and invested many long hours. “In a year, you’ll realize that the amount you learned is insane,” he told his group.

D1s on Day One
Several students said they appreciated the many types of advice and assistance they received, even though the admonitions to get organized and to aggressively manage the 24-7 pace of dental school may have raised their anxiety level a bit. Nisha Patel, who studied biology and psychology at Loyola University in Chicago, said her first day was “super-great” in part because U-M, as a nationally recognized public university, drew her classmates from all around the country, offering a greater diversity than the primarily Midwestern student body at her private undergrad alma mater.  “I’m excited to just get started,” Patel said. “And nervous because I know it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be hard. I know that it’s going to be harder than undergrad, but I also believe that the harder part was getting in. Now I feel that once we’re in, we’re all in this together, so we’ll get through it.”

Rita Maizy uses a selfie stick to hold her cell phone high for a rooftop group photo on the first day of orientation. Maizy and her group of D1 classmates were touring the School of Dentistry building when they took time for the photo with Burton Tower and adjoining parts of the main campus in the background.

Josh Hurlburt, a student from Lansing, Mich., earned his undergrad degree at U-M in microbiology and European studies.  His first-day reaction was reserved. “It feels kind of surreal right now; hasn’t really hit me yet what’s going on.  So the nervousness I know will come, it’s just not here yet … but I foresee it coming,” he said. “It’ll be a lot of fun.  I know it will be hard at times, but it will all be worth it.  Just have to kind of keep the end goal in mind.”

One of the more non-traditional paths to the dental school comes from Heather Rae McAlvey, who finished her undergrad degree at Michigan State in 2009, then spent two years in Americorp. That was followed by social work in various health and social service agencies in the Lansing area before taking a break to farm with her husband near Lansing. It was during her farming stint that she realized dentistry would fit well with her interests and goals. She majored in Spanish with a psychology/sociology minor and specialization in Women, Gender and Social Justice.  “I wanted to do something where I could see the fruits of my labor, that’s why I think it’s kind of interesting that when I was farming, it gave me my inspiration.  I wanted to make sure that I could give back in a way that I could tangibly see, and I knew that there is a huge (dentistry) need in the community I’m from.”  She hopes to take her dental degree back to Lansing and perhaps work in public health.

Because of the gap between her undergrad degree and the start of dental school, she said her first-day worries are about the academic workload. “But I also feel like this is real now, I have worked really hard to get here.  I feel like I have a really concrete passion for what I want to do when I finish school.  So I just keep feeding into that. Be like: ‘Remember, remember, this is why we’re doing this. There’s a big purpose.’ ”

After their formal class photo was finished, class members were invited to assume a more informal pose and Steven Lu wasted no time coming up with his alternative look.