100 Years of ADEA: Dr. Shelia S. Price

Sheila Price

Shelia S. Price, D.D.S., Ed.D.

Associate Dean and Professor
West Virginia University School of Dentistry

Dr. Shelia Price has been a tireless advocate for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging within dental education. Her dental career began as the first female, African American dental graduate at West Virginia University School of Dentistry (WVU SOD). She would go on to make her mark at WVU SOD in numerous ways, including helping to implement the WVU Kuwaiti Dental Program and shepherding Discourse and Dine 2000: Dentistry’s Discussion on Diversity Continues, a lunch-and-learn series at the dental school. At ADEA, Dr. Price served as Chair of the ADEA Minority Affairs Advisory Committee (now called the ADEA Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee) and Chair of the Health Sciences Center Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. In the following Q&A, she shares her experiences and how she hopes to continue to help diversify the dental profession and inspire and nurture future trailblazers.

Q. You were the first female, African American dental graduate from the West Virginia University School of Dentistry (WVU SOD). How has that experience informed your advocacy for diversity in dental education and dentistry?

My dream of becoming a dentist began in fifth grade. As a first-generation college student from a low-income background, I did not set out to become the first African American woman to earn a dental degree at WVU. It was after the fact, in conversation with WVU graduate Dr. Paul Gates, this position of honor became known to me.

My gratitude list of mentors—men, women, dentists and nondentists—serves as reminder that I did not become a member of the “firsts” club by myself. Dental education leaders, such as Dr. W. Robert Biddington, Dr. Jeanne C. Sinkford and Dr. Gates, opened doors and advised me.

I can never repay my mentors. All I can do is pay forward their invaluable mentoring. As a salute to them, I strive to be a strong role model and bright lantern bearer for individuals from diverse backgrounds—no matter their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, country of origin, religious beliefs and socioeconomic status. I advocate for diversity by shepherding recruitment initiatives to help inspire students to pursue dentistry—even fifth graders from rural, underserved communities. Leading holistic admissions practices, developing faculty development and curricular materials, and bringing voice to issues impacting the student experience are other avenues I use to foster diversity, equity and inclusion.

I always look back on my educational and career journey with humility. First, in grateful remembrance of sacrifices and support others gave to help me along the way. Second, recognizing that throughout history innumerable deserving people did not have the opportunity to be on this path or ascend to first in any category. Third, seeing and supporting those behind me on the way to becoming dentists, educators, leaders and oral health advocates. Each time I look back, the urgency to advocate renews.

Q. Back in 2000, you led a lunch hour social justice series for dental school faculty titled, Discourse and Dine 2000: Dentistry’s Discussion on Diversity Continues. Was there a particular catalyst for those discussions? Do you think dental school faculty could benefit from similar discussions now and what new topics would you tackle?

On the threshold of a new millennium, West Virginia University welcomed a new dental dean and unveiled a robust Strategic Plan for Achieving Social Justice. A school-wide discussion on diversity could not have been more perfectly timed.

Discourse and Dine 2000 faculty development series used diverse voices within the school to help unpack social justice topics in a lunch-and-learn format. We took a family approach to initiating these sometimes-uncomfortable conversations, rather than identifying external consultants. One session convened a panel of students and recent graduates whose testimonies uncovered a gap between students’ reality and the school’s perception of its welcoming environment. This revelation helped the school community understand the relevance of respectful and inclusive educational environments and begin mapping improvement strategies.

Can faculty benefit from similar discussions now? Yes, of course. Dedication to life-long learning is at the epicenter of professionalism, with principles such as justice, veracity and beneficence forming the dental profession’s bedrock. Because dental education is a microcosm of our increasingly diverse society, a “one and done” method for faculty development on diversity-related topics would be grossly inadequate.

Exemplary institutions take exemplary steps to address topics and behaviors that hinder inclusiveness and belongingness. Bringing together faculty and leaders to discuss inclusion as a core competency or subjects—such as microaggressions, stereotyping and implicit biases—could help prevent incipient or full-blown incidences that tarnish welcoming environments.

Q. Your advocacy for diversity in dental education and dentistry goes beyond American boarders. You had a key role in implementing and expanding the WVU Kuwaiti Dental Program, allowing students from Kuwait to learn at WVU skills necessary to care for patients in their native country. Why do you think international partnerships like these are important?

International partnerships are win-win undertakings. The WVU-Kuwaiti partnership facilitates bidirectional cultural immersion and learning by everyone in the dental school community. The experience helps remove ambiguity and increase awareness about cultural variations in our increasingly diverse society.

The partnership is preparing both Kuwaiti and U.S. students to be better health care providers by promoting cultural proficiency and inclusivity as a professional necessity. Students acquire firsthand knowledge about each other’s culture, traditions and health system.

International partnerships provide a valuable instrument in the diversity toolkit for achieving excellence in education. Because WVU’s institutional goals infuse diversity, this partnership is a promising initiative to improve the quality of education available to U.S. students. It augments traditional curricular efforts aimed at increasing cross-cultural awareness and understanding.

This international partnership is another indicator of institutional commitment to DEIB, guided by E. Pluribus Unu: “Out of many, one.” One dental school comprised of people from diverse backgrounds unified by a common interest: oral health for all.

Q.  You were one of the authors of Undaunted Trailblazers: Minority Women Leaders for Oral Health. What does a collection of stories like this offer to future generations of dentists and dental educators?

Undaunted Trailblazers is a treasure chest of wisdom shared through reflective, personal accounts by accomplished minority women leaders for oral health. Structured around and informed by 31 impressive careers, this book unleashes unique insights on conquering challenges, stewarding well opportunities, achieving dreams and making positive differences. It readily lends itself useful to aspiring and current leaders and serves as a wonderful reference for individuals, groups and organizations desiring to help women of color achieve.

The book furnishes models on advancing leadership aspirations to achievements while courageously navigating sometimes unchartered career channels with grace, grit and gratitude. Readers can glean inspiration from women leaders who serve with heart, compassion and steadfastness in purpose. Their experiences provide motivation to overcome challenges by demonstrating that struggles come and, with resilience, so do achievements.

These trailblazers also illustrate mentoring as an indispensable tool, diverse pathways taken to become leaders and lessons learned along their career journey. The book provides unequivocal affirmation that even though a large distance may exist between dreams and destiny, one’s vision for the future is attainable when pursued with purpose, poise and perseverance.

Q. How do you hope ADEA continues to evolve as an organization into the next 100 years?

I hope ADEA stays rooted in values that have guided the organization’s first 100 years. Continue cultivating a culture of connectedness, offering a hub for meaningful professional relationships and leading collaborations that harvest innovative ideas for a better future.

Being “The Voice of Dental Education” encompasses hearing all stakeholders, heeding the trends and events influencing dental education and boldly advancing innovative initiatives to promote oral health equity.

Maintain momentum by prioritizing service and letting purpose be the compass to the future.

Persist in planting seeds of inspiration by redoubling engagement with students at every stage in the educational continuum. Students are the future oral health providers, educators, leaders and advocates. Nurture them well.

With these established tenets—prioritizing service and innovation, fostering professional networks and moving forward with purpose and agility—ADEA is destined to flourish another 100 years and beyond.