Preparing Our Students to go “Into the Black”
“Today what I want to do is invite you on a journey with me across space and time—100 years in the future, to another star system,” says Mae Jemison, M.D., to a full house at the Sunday morning opening plenary session, Exploring the Frontiers of Science and Human Potential.
Dr. Jemison knows what it’s like to go into space. She was a NASA astronaut for six years, flying aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, and the first woman of color to go into space. She’s taught sustainable development and technology at Dartmouth College and is a member of the National Academy of Medicine. She has
dedicated her life’s work to scientific, technological and medical advancement, exploring the frontiers of science and human potential. These qualifications make her uniquely positioned to lead 100 Year Starship, an initiative seed-funded by the Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Project
Agency to make human travel beyond the solar system a reality within a century.
Dr. Jemison challenged attendees to think about how to get beyond where we are today. By pursuing an extraordinary tomorrow, we get a better world today. Education is about getting everyone to contribute and reach their full potentials. The majority of students’ work lives will span 40 to 50
years, and the skills they will need to meet future challenges will evolve over time.
Growing up in the 1960s, Dr. Jemison said that during that time it seemed there was unlimited potential and energy in our society, and extraordinary things were happening—breaking speed barriers, going to the moon, joining the civil rights and women’s movements. As a child she loved math and
science and was a fan of the original Star Trek series. She was determined to go into space, and simply assumed that she would. But, she said, she didn’t get there by herself. It was her education, her parents, her teachers and society that allowed her to reach this potential.
The importance of having more people in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields is coming to the fore because we are at a critical point in world and U.S. history. Dr. Jemison went on to say that the output of the STEM fields is leading the way, and it’s not
necessarily a good path. “When I talk about science literacy, I’m talking about being able to read an article in the newspaper about your health or a scientific article, to be able to vote critically,” Dr. Jemison says. The people in the STEM fields get to choose the topics to study, the problems to
solve, the technologies to develop, and the methods and standards used to assess the effectiveness of those technologies. That’s why it’s so important to have more people in STEM fields.
She went on to point out that the technologies being developed to support space exploration impact our daily lives. When we use the GPS function on our cell phones or get weather forecasts, we are transmitting information from satellites in space. The algorithms used to transmit MRI
signals into the images that doctors interpret are the same algorithms that were used to translate images sent from Mars exploration.
There are myriad challenges to consider for interstellar travel: Distances, speed, sustainable technologies that we don’t have now—you can’t stop by the grocery store when you’re in space. What will we do about health care? Which fabrics do we use? Are travelers to be vegetarian or
carnivores? Will there be alcohol, coffee or chocolate? Is work based on an individual’s choice or assigned? What is the governance structure? Transdisciplinary education and collaboration is key to figuring out how to address these issues.
100 Year Starship is about making sure we have the capabilities for human travel beyond our solar system in 100 years. Our world is faced with overwhelming challenges today. And while we’re talking about interstellar travel, it’s actually a journey to enhance life on Earth. Right
now, Earth is our star ship.
The blue sky is known to us. The deeper we travel through space, “into the black,” the less we know. So we need to train our students to prepare for the unknown.
Engage Your Audience With Presentations That Encourage Co-participation and Learning
You invested a lot of time on a presentation to colleagues or a lesson for your students. Did they learn anything? Did it stick? Dental educators came together to learn how to craft presentations that resonate and stick with audiences long after they have been delivered. Sarah Michel of Velvet
Chainsaw shared tips for delivering presentations with sizzle and substance while employing them throughout the session.
What is the role of content in conferences? It is sense-making. People mostly wrestle with questions and content in the hallways or at cocktail receptions. Speakers should allow the audience to wrestle with content by bringing the discussion into the sessions. Engaging the brain trust in the
session can bring about new ideas and encourage new perspectives.
The internet has changed how information is delivered and accessed. The knowledge gap has shrunk, and the speaker is no longer the smartest person in the room. People can access information 24 hours a day. At an educational session, a speaker provides expert content, but leveraging the knowledge
in the room to educate one another and helping each other solve problems can be just as powerful.
When designing the structure of a presentation, it’s important to consider how the brain works as well as the content. A thoughtful plan that takes this into consideration will ensure the content will remain with the audience. The goal of an educational session is to offer
transformational experiences to members. It should also deliver a path to find solutions to problems. People are problem centric, not content centric. Give them solutions, and you have them.
And to grab them, it should be understood that the role of the speaker is changing. The speaker becomes a guide or facilitator. To that end, it’s important to be participant-centered, bringing that wrestling with the content into the presentation by making it lively and engaging.
When the brain wrestles with something, it is heightened. The pathways are open, and learning happens. Twenty years of research into neuroscience tells us the one who does the work does the learning. One-way communication kills learning. Sometimes it is okay when the goal is inspiration and
motivation. But, in a concurrent educational session, learning is the goal. A presenter should be willing to let participants engage with short exercises to get their brains firing on various levels. Co-participation allows a lot of information to be brought to the table, expanding the knowledge base.
To give the audience the opportunity to be engaged in learning, and not just focused on a talking head, structure your presentation so content is delivered, a short exercise is offered for brainstorming, and there is opportunity for one or two groups to share their outcomes. This not
only allows the speaker to keep control of the room, but allows for the exchange of information and ideas. Stories and anecdotes become sticky notes to the brain, and learning has occurred.
Learning is transformational. Give your audience the opportunity to network, share and brainstorm. Encouraging the development of tacit knowledge—sharing of experiences—helps sustain relationships, build communities and further knowledge.
Dental Schools Encouraged to Think Creatively About Retention and Recruitment in Approaching Faculty Shortages
Since at least 1950, dental schools have experienced faculty shortages. It has proven difficult for schools to attract and retain people in academic dentistry. A 1950 American Dental Association report from the Council on Dental Education showed 135 faculty vacancies at the 28 dental schools in the United States at
the time. Today, it’s much the same. Data from 2014–15 show 348 vacancies, of which 252 are full-time and 72% are clinical. Dental hygiene education faces similar issues. This is not a new challenge, but one that institutions are trying to solve with creative thinking.
How do dental schools go beyond traditional recruitment methods to find those who may be interested in teaching? And where can they find new pools of recruits? Surveys show that most come to academia from private practice, followed by a transition from other dental schools or advanced dental education programs. In examining
why they join academic dentistry, it’s also important to look at why they leave. Most telling is that 20% of those that leave go into private practice. That makes retention a problem as well.
Some of the biggest barriers to recruitment include the income gap, quality of applicants and student debt. Budget constraints often keep salaries far from competitive compared with what can be earned in private practice or corporate dentistry. This also feeds into students’ ability to pay off their student
debt, which averages $262,000. There are also some applicants who may not be qualified because of education or experience gaps.
There are opportunities to turn these barriers into avenues for recruitment. Existing strategies include structured fellowship programs that offer a mentor/mentee component. Participants create a teaching or research project with the hope of inspiring
students along a path to academia. Some schools are employing “Growing Our Own” programs. They proactively mentor within their own ranks, promoting faculty development, loan repayment and continuing education opportunities.
There are many untapped resources when it comes to recruitment. Schools are encouraged to follow up with alumni or past award winners. Their academic histories and interests can be an indicator of engagement that may translate into an interest in teaching. A school must also minimize barriers experienced
by those joining the academic ranks. Offering graduate teaching positions, continuing education or ways to mitigate student debt are also creative ways to recruit.
Private practitioners are another untapped resource. How do you reach those people? Ask them! Reach out to dentists in the community. Do they have an interest in working with students? Are they thinking about a change? Institutions could also offer shadow days, where they spend a day in the life of dental educators, attending
classes and faculty meetings, to get a taste of what academia is all about.
However a dental school or allied institution approaches the problem of faculty shortages, creativity and untapped resources should not be overlooked. Sharing the rewards and benefits of teaching is the first step to bringing the next generation of dental educators on board.