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Alumna Devotes Career to Students, Colleagues
By Salwa Choucair
She didn’t set out to make history as one of the first females accepted into the School of Dentistry in 1971, but she did; and Birgit Junfin Glass, D.D.S., M.S., continued to break barriers during her 42-year career as a faculty member and administrator in the same dental school where she received her Doctor of Dental Surgery in 1975.
“I have had an incredible time,” says Dr. Glass, who serves the dental school as associate dean for academic affairs and as a professor. She will retire at the end of this year. “I have such wonderful feelings about this place. I have had the opportunity to interact with faculty, students and staff, and everyone has always been very nice to me. I don’t want a legacy. I just want to be remembered as being supportive, being a hard worker and as someone who tried to do things differently.”
Her quiet demeanor and kind nature have left an impact on countless students and colleagues. While she has never considered herself a trailblazer, Dr. Glass has indeed blazed a path for others to follow, and she has paved the way for them to make giant strides by being a role model and a mentor.
“My administrative style is to do things so that people with good ideas don’t have obstacles,” says Dr. Glass, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Germany when she was 7 years old. “I try to remove those obstacles so they can get things done. That’s the future. You have people with these wonderful ideas, and while I didn’t know where to turn when I had ideas as a young student, I want to be the person who takes the obstacles away, so these good ideas can fly.
“I also hope that I always provided an environment where people spoke openly and could discuss and disagree agreeably,” she continues. “I think I set that kind of stage. I don’t like confrontation, but you do have to stand up sometimes.”
Besides being one of only two women first accepted into the dental school (in its second dental class) at a time when women’s rights were often the focus of the daily news and laws were being passed for equal rights in higher education, Dr. Glass was also the first in other areas. She was the first female to serve as president of the International Association of Dento-Maxillo-Facial Radiology and the American Academy of Dental Radiology as well as the first female to become the associate dean of academic affairs, a title she has had since 1995.
Dr. Glass was unaware of the history she was making at the time because she had never been told that she had limitations or couldn’t do something. For example, education was very important to her father, and she and her siblings were expected to attend college. She received her bachelor’s degree in biology in 1970 from Texas Women’s University and was recruited to teach in San Antonio on an emergency teaching certificate after completing her degree. She taught math and science at Thomas Edison High School for one year.
While enjoying her first summer break, Dr. Glass learned about the new dental school in San Antonio from a friend, decided to apply and was accepted.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” she says, “but I loved it. Everything I did was exciting. I loved working with my hands, and I loved the classes. At that time, it was the best four years of my life.”
Dr. Glass’ enthusiasm for the dental curriculum has continued throughout her career as an educator, working her way from instructor to tenured professor and receiving her Master of Science in Dental Diagnostic Science in 1983 from UT Health’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. This allowed her to become board certified in both oral and maxillofacial radiology and in oral medicine.
Looking back over the years, she points to many mentors and colleagues who helped her along the way and encourages students to take advantage of every opportunity presented while in school.
“I feel like we have a community spirit in the school,” Dr. Glass reflects, “and I hope I helped foster that spirit. No one is indispensable, and this place will be just fine without me. It will be different and it will be better because you learn from those who came before you. I want it to be better. I love this place.”