By Sonja Harrison
Dr. Christopher Arena entered dental school in 1997 and enrolled in the DMD/PhD program in fall 2000. After graduating from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) dental school in 2004, he is now pursuing the PhD. As a PGY-2 GPR resident and chief resident, he practices in the Special Care Treatment Center providing care to special needs patients. Dr. Arena has been an active member of the Council of Students (COS) since his junior year at UMDNJ when he attended his first COS meeting at the 2000 Annual Session in Washington, DC.
In March 2003, the Council of Students elected Dr. Arena to his first term as COS Vice President. He is currently serving his third and final term. By including the Vice President for Students on its Board of Directors, ADEA ensures that students have a voice at the table when all key decisions for the Association are made.
Q: How do you define the function of the Council of Students in ADEA?
A: The purpose of the Council of Students is to provide the student’s perspective within ADEA. Students are consumers of dental education; hence, we have unique insight as to how the educational process can be enhanced. In addition, issues such as licensure, student debt, and faculty shortages directly affect a student’s current and future career options, which has ramifications for both dental education and the profession as a whole. The COS helps to inform and educate students about these and many other issues.
Q: How did you become ADEA’s Vice President for Students?
A: It is an honor and privilege to serve as Vice President for the Council of Students. Over the years, I have served the COS as Regional Representative, Vice Chair, Chair, and now Vice President. In each of these positions, I demonstrated my commitment to making the COS a more responsive and efficient council on both a national and local level by enhancing communication and improving organization.
Q: Has the Council of Students changed since you’ve been involved with it?
A: One aspect of the COS that remains unchanged is the endless supply of outstanding student leaders. All of our students bring with them a diverse set of ideas, experiences, and backgrounds that have contributed immensely to the council. Collectively, this wealth of knowledge has shaped and focused the council to be more effective in communicating students’ concerns and developing possible solutions to the issues that dental education faces.
Q: What are the critical issues you see facing the Council of Students?
A: Issues of importance to the council are the same as for all students. The high cost of education, licensure, and faculty shortages are perhaps the most pressing at this time. It is reassuring, however, to know that our concerns are shared by our colleagues in ADEA, the ADA, ASDA, AADR, and parts of the examination community. I have no doubt these issues will be resolved through continued collaboration.
Q: What are your goals for the council?
A: The most important goal I have for the council is to increase membership. With ADEA’s open membership model being introduced in January 2006 [in which every individual in an ADEA member institution will be eligible to become a member at no cost], it will be possible to recruit every dental student in the nation since the cost of paying dues will no longer be an issue. By increasing our membership, the COS will be more effective in its primary mission of representing students within ADEA and informing students about important issues that challenge dental and allied dental education. Another goal I have for the council is to provide leadership opportunities to as many students as possible. Opening the door to more students allows for greater collaboration and the development of new ideas to address issues of concern to students.
Q: Granted that choosing to become a dental faculty member is a personal decision, what’s your perspective on the issue?
A: The choice to become a dental faculty member can be a difficult one. Certainly, there are many factors that influence one’s decision such as student debt, economic situation, family needs, and professional expectations. Individuals must carefully assess all factors involved and prioritize what is most important to them professionally. If one wants to be on the forefront of the dental profession through scholarship, teaching and research, and disseminating new knowledge to students and colleagues, then becoming faculty may be a good match.
As for his own career path, Dr. Arena intends to pursue interests in academic dentistry and private practice: “I believe that being involved in both capacities helps to reinforce and strengthen one’s abilities in each area."