GSDM New Pre-Matriculation Enrichment Program Unites Underrepresented First-Year DMD Students

The goal of the new Pre-Matriculation Enrichment Program (PEP) launched this academic year is to support students’ intellectual and cultural assets and in accessing resources that will help them achieve academic success at GSDM. As a part of PEP, students were given tours of the Boston University Medical Campus, the Charles River Campus, and a South End Dining Tour. (Photo provided by Dr. Larry Dunham, GSDM assistant dean for diversity, inclusion, equity & belonging, and Joseph Johnson, GSDM assistant director of diversity, inclusion, equity & belonging.)

 

GSDM launched a new program this year aimed at giving incoming DMD students from underrepresented populations the chance to learn academic, professional, and personal development strategies a week prior to the start of their dental education.  

During the new Pre-Matriculation Enrichment Program (PEP), 13 first-year DMD students connected with current GSDM faculty, staff, students, and alums to increase their sense of belonging at the school. 

The goal of PEP is to support students’ intellectual and cultural assets and in accessing resources that will help them achieve academic success at GSDM, according to Dr. Larry Dunham, GSDM assistant dean for diversity, inclusion, equity & belonging, and Joseph Johnson, GSDM assistant director of diversity, inclusion, equity & belonging. 

After reflecting on the PEP experience, Dunham said he was pleased with the program’s first year. 

“It was only four days long, but a lot was accomplished during that time. Folks were feeling that connectedness,” Dunham said. “That’s what I was hoping for because when you do this, you don’t know if folks are really going to connect or if it is going to resonate with them, but I think overall it did.” 

The 13 students, also known as PEP fellows, were selected from students that noted they were from economically and educationally disadvantaged households or historically oppressed groups during the application process.  

Over four days, the program had more than 20 workshops led by members of the GSDM community, focusing on four main areas: personal self-awareness, academic readiness (the degree to which a student is prepared for the learning experience), academic awareness (the way students can circulate knowledge in and beyond the college classroom), and building community. Students were also given tours of the Boston University Medical Campus, the Charles River Campus, and a South End Dining Tour.  

“I’m hoping that it will further connect students with one another [for] peer mentorship, not only for students within the school but also for their peer group from other schools,” Dunham said. “I’m also hopeful that it will allow us, as faculty and staff, that were involved with this to develop closer relationships and trust one another, to work in a collaborative way to benefit our students and diminish ego competition that we may have.”  

The students who participated in PEP will be supported throughout their dental school experience with biweekly check-ins and professional development opportunities, according to Dunham and Johnson. 

“As we are having discussions about the academic journey of students through the DMD curriculum, [it] help us strategically think about the ups and downs or the flows of one’s journey through dental education, and how we can better support them or support others based upon our interactions with this cohort of students,” Johnson said.  

As for the future of PEP, Dunham and Johnson said the program will continue evolving and improving. They hope to incorporate some of the 2023 PEP fellows into future PEP workshops.  

“I believe in student success, so I want to do anything that’s going to help create opportunities for students to be successful,” Johnson said. 

GSDM Communications spoke to three 2023 PEP fellows about their experiences.  

 

Kierra Prophet DMD 27 (Photo Credit: Dan Bomba, GSDM.)

Kierra Prophet DMD 27  

When Kierra Prophet first heard about PEP, she immediately thought it was an excellent idea. As the first person in her family to go to college, she appreciated that the program would give her access to additional resources and provide an opportunity to network with peers before classes began.  

She said PEP made her feel more at ease throughout the school’s Predoctoral Matriculation Week the following week.  

It helped me feel more prepared, just knowing more about the resources that are being offered, and seeing familiar faces, that also helped me to feel more comfortable,” Prophet said. “We’d do reflections on things that we learned the day before. We would do introspections, and it would be like ‘What do we want to create here at Boston University?’ [We] just really sat with our thoughts, and really thought about things, our next steps, and our future, so all of that was amazing.”  

Prophet was motivated and inspired by hearing from current students, residents, professors, and alumni about different career paths after dental school. While she is unsure what she is going to specialize in, she can now picture herself in a variety of professional settings, she said.  

“Representation matters,” Prophet said. “I got to see different dentists that look like me doing different things … It just opened my eyes to things I could do, so that was really awesome.”  

Now, a few weeks after starting classes, Prophet is benefiting from an established community of fellow first-year PEP fellows, who have a bond from completing the program together.  

“Even though we’re still a minority in the dental school, it’s okay,” Prophet said. “That was fine, because I felt like I belonged.” 

 

Elijah Quiñones DMD 27 (Photo Credit: Dan Bomba, GSDM.)

Elijah Quiñones DMD 27  

Starting a dental education seemed to be a daunting task, but Elijah Quiñones said he was ready for the challenge.  

When Quiñones was young, his family struggled to access high-quality healthcare, leading to his father’s death from an aneurysm. After his father died, Quiñones was motivated to improve accessibility in the medical field and improve his patients’ lives. He originally wanted to become a neurosurgeon, but ultimately found dentistry to be more intrinsically rewarding.  

Quiñones was looking for a dental school that would be welcoming and accepting; GSDM was the perfect place.  

“I wanted to go to a place that was more open,” he said. “[After] hearing about Boston University and GSDM, all these great programs they had, welcoming so many different aspects of life, like with Dr. Dunham talking about diversity and inclusion, I knew that’s where I wanted to be. I wanted to be in a place where I felt welcomed, where I could find people who looked like me, who talked like me, who actually made me feel welcomed and not like an outcast.”  

When he was notified that he was a PEP fellow, he was simultaneously excited and nervous, as he said he was not used to being around people who share a similar background.  

“I want to fit in, but also stand out at the same time,” Quiñones said. “I wanted people who were going to encourage me, but also accept me, and that’s what PEP did for me.”  

Quiñones said it was noteworthy to hear from postdoctoral residents about their dental education journeys and how they ended up at GSDM.  

“I’m a big person on making sure that I can lay my roots in places, and I continue growing with that place that I’m in,” he said. “Hearing those residents talk about that and being so passionate about everything they were doing, I knew that I made the right choice and that PEP is really giving me exposure to the field of dentistry, but also to just understanding what makes people tick and what makes people passionate to wake up every day, was the right choice for me.”  

 Quiñones said he was thankful to PEP for helping him start dental school on a good note, already connected to a core group of peers.  

“PEP is so beneficial to really making you feel included and really admiring people’s differences and how those are actually some of their best qualities about themselves, and that those differences are what got them to this point, and they’re what got you to this point,” Quiñones said. “But the similarities are what bring you together, and now you have so many connections and so many people who want you to succeed and you want them to succeed.” 

 

Yousef Atrous DMD 27 (Photo Credit: Dan Bomba, GSDM.)

Yousef Atrous DMD 27  

Elementary students are frequently asked the age-old question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In fourth grade, Yousef Atrous proclaimed he wanted to become a dentist. He has never changed his answer.  

Growing up in northern Virginia, Atrous knew he wanted to attend dental school in a city. After talking with Dunham throughout the application process about the diversity, equity, and inclusion work happening at GSDM, Atrous decided to choose Boston and GSDM.  

Atrous was intrigued about PEP, as he thought it would be a great way to make connections with peers, as well as GSDM faculty and staff. He said he was delighted to see these connections come to fruition throughout the program, and especially enjoyed hearing everyone’s opinions and engaging in thought-provoking conversation during the reflection periods.  

He added that PEP was a special bonding period for the attendees, as it helped everyone recognize the similarities of their path to dental school.  

“[PEP] made me feel I’m not alone and that I could relate to multiple people in our class,” Atrous said. 

In the weeks following PEP, both with Predoctoral Matriculation week and the start of classes, Atrous said he felt more prepared and already felt at home at GSDM. He said he and the other PEP fellows sometimes have study groups on the weekends and try to hang out socially on a regular basis.  

“We have already established a small little family, but that’s not to say we were also limiting ourselves to [only PEP fellows],” Atrous said. “It was just nice to have that comfortability to talk to someone that could relate. I knew I wanted to attend a dental school where they established that family-like aspect, which is one of the main reasons why I chose to go to GSDM. I saw the family like care they have here and was shown a little of that through the Pre-Matriculation Program.” 

Atrous said he is looking forward to being involved with PEP in the upcoming years and hopes to spark that same sense of familiar comfort to future incoming first-years.  

“On a scale of one to 10, I’d give PEP an 11,” he said.  

 

By Rachel Grace Philipson