While student involvement in innovation may be possible on any
campus, some schools make it easier than others. The University of the
Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry (Pacific) prizes
its humanistic, student-centered approach, and that attitude is
evident at the school whose namesake famously declared, "At
Pacific, we build people, and along the way they become
According to Dr. Nader A. Nadershahi, Acting Dean of the dental
school and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Pacific attempts to
involve students "at every level of the conversation about what
happens in the school."
Dr. Patrick J. Ferrillo, Jr. is Dean of the dental school and
Interim Provost at Pacific. He has continued the tradition that
students sit on every standing committee, including committees that
deal specifically with faculty and curriculum issues. Students are
regularly invited to interact with faculty and administrators-over
brown bag lunches; at small, private gatherings; and at a
semiannual dinner where students are encouraged to raise their
questions and concerns.
"All issues brought up during these dinners are guaranteed to be
addressed by the school," Dr. Nadershahi points out, so students
feel their involvement pays off, including in the area of
"We like to say that innovation is a tradition here at Pacific."
Those are the words of Dr. Robert Brodnick, Associate Vice
President of the University. "Innovation has long been a core value
at Pacific," he adds. "Our most recent strategic plan elevates it
to a strategic commitment."
What shape does innovation take at the dental school? The
integration of case-based learning across Pacific's
three-year curriculum is evidence enough that the school and its
faculty are willing to strike out in new directions, and students
have shown their desire to move into uncharted territory as well.
Recent examples of student initiatives include the formation of a
group for future dental educators; the launching of an
alumni/student mentor program; and the development of a Leadership Institute.
Several student-led projects have also grown out of the school's
pioneering Helix Curriculum, whose goal is to graduate lifelong
learners and critical thinkers able to integrate the science and
technology of dentistry. Students are paired with faculty mentors
for large, literature-based research projects. Several students
presented the resulting papers at organized dentistry conferences,
and many of the mentoring relationships have outlasted the
In 2009, Pacific received the first Excellence in Institutional
Innovation and Integration Award from the Society for
College and University Planning (SCUP) in recognition of its
new strategic plan, which SCUP hailed as "an active, dynamic lever
for innovation." In 2006, Pacific's President backed the plan's
call for innovation with the establishment of a $1.5 million grant
fund. Each year $50,000 of this money is awarded to projects that
impact student learning, service, or organizational performance.
Students are eligible to apply, and to date, two students have
received awards. Neither was in the dental school, but surely that
day is not far off.