Prepare to Engage

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that the average dental student has limited time. So between class, studying, and clinic time there’s little availability for adding in community service.  Happily, in an effort to foster civic engagement and strengthen community service at TUSDM, the Department of Public Health and Community Service (DPHCS) is proud to present Dental Central, a new online hub for student organizations.

Dental Central, which officially went live in September 2014, allows student organizations at the dental school to broadcast upcoming community and cultural events, encourage participation and reflect on past work. It was created in collaboration with the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, and was the brainchild of Nancy Marks, Community Service Learning Coordinator in DPHCS.

“One of the first things I noticed when I got to TUSDM is that students were unaware of what other students were doing, and events were being scheduled on the same day,” Marks said. “I could see that it was frustrating to work so hard to pull together a great community or cultural event only to find out that another group was working on the same effort.”

Dental Central was developed after Marks met with student organization leaders to find out how she could assist in better organizing the student organizations. It includes pages for individual student organizations, a calendar of upcoming service opportunities, and space for participants to reflect on their experiences serving the community.

“Being a student, we’re swamped with emails and many opportunities are missed,” said Mandy Alamwala, D16, and member of the Advisory Board that maintains the website.  “Student organizations at Tufts are very active and do remarkable things, but TUSDM student and faculty are often unaware of what students are doing.  Our goal is to make Dental Central the main portal students go to for all community service, cultural and student organization needs.”

Dental Central’s Advisory Board is made up of student, faculty and staff representatives, who meet periodically to discuss how to optimize the site and bring in other ideas to strengthen the public health work coming from the school. Marks said that the site could not be successful without student input and ownership, as well as Tufts staff in Tisch College, IT, and Academic Affairs. There are 20 student groups represented on Dental Central’s website, though Alamwala said that school awareness is one of the group’s biggest challenges.

“The feedback we’ve received from students is extremely positive but I still run into students who are unaware of the site and don’t use it as often as we’d like,” she said. “We hope to battle this by introducing it to students as soon as they enter as first years at TUSDM.”

The advisory board is currently is working on making the website more mobile-friendly, and building the support from more student organizations. They are also planning to integrate the site with the Oral Health Promotion course, which requires 10 hours of community service.

“I believe that community service is core to creating a more just and civic-minded society,” Marks said. “If Dental Central can play a small role in supporting that, then it will be worth all the effort.”

Justin Maillet, D17 and a Dental Central Advisory Board member, said the site has brought the school not just efficiency and organization, but also a clear view of the opportunities available to every dental student.

“Looking at the big calendar with all the student organizations, you really get a better scope of how much we are doing,” Maillet said. “You can really see the impact that all the student groups have. That’s the thing that really wows me.”