Revived Women Dentists Group Garners National Awards
By Catherine Duncan
During their first year at the School of Dentistry, a group of students decided they wanted to start a student chapter of the American Association of Women Dentists. These young women soon learned the school already had a chapter that had been inactive for many years.
Marinee Cabrera, D.D.S., said she, Kristan Rodriguez, D.D.S., and Krishna Patel, D.D.S., all Class of 2017, agreed they wanted to revitalize the dormant chapter. After getting approval from Dean William W. Dodge, D.D.S., they enlisted the assistance of Risé Martin, D.D.S., Class of 1985, who the students had met while volunteering at the American Dental Association meeting in San Antonio, which Dr. Martin had overseen.
“Dr. Martin had been part of the student chapter when she was here, and she is an active member of the American Association of Women Dentists,” said Dr. Cabrera, who is now doing her residency in North Carolina. “She helped us get started.”
Dr. Cabrera said at their first meeting in 2015, they had a really positive response from female students. “We started planning events to improve ourselves and develop a strong network of women in the field. I was so motivated by all the women who were so thoroughly supportive of this organization. Although we had titles, everyone chipped in to help,” she said.
The founding leadership team was: Dr. Cabrera, president; Dr. Rodriguez, vice president; Dr. Patel, secretary; Monica Attia, D.D.S., treasurer; Madiha Khanani, D.D.S., historian; Ai Ton, D.D.S., philanthropy chair; Nancy Wong, D.D.S., social media chair; Aalia Farukhi, DS2 liaison; and Pooja Sukumar, DS4 liaison.
The student chapter then hosted or co-hosted a plethora of community service, professional development, health and wellness, fundraising and social events. These included dental screenings, mentoring teenage girls, four professional development events, a yoga class on campus, headband and T-shirt fundraisers, and wine and painting events.
Karen Troendle, D.D.S., M.P.H., professor of comprehensive dentistry, calls the group’s energy and vision “nothing short of stunning. They asked me to be their faculty advisor, but I am the one who learned so much from them. They had an incredible maturity and poise well beyond their years as well as an amazing set of organizational skills.
“Their goal was reflected in the AAWD mission of ‘Advancing, Connecting, and Enriching Lives,’ ” Dr. Troendle said. “Most new or revived organizations on campus may have one or two major events a year. Marinee and her crew were master organizers and publicists who had 98 students attend their first meeting, including several men, the dean and the associate dean of academic affairs. They hosted more events than I could ever imagine.”
Dr. Cabrera created a student chapter of the year application to summarize the group’s initial activities. Out of more than 70 applications, the AAWD San Antonio Student Chapter won The Phoenix Award from the national AAWD, which held its 2016 meeting at the American Dental Association meeting in Denver.
Mary E. Martin, D.D.S., M.Ed., then national AAWD president, created the award after reading Dr. Cabrera’s application. “Dr. Martin wanted The Phoenix Award to recognize a revitalized chapter that had come back from the ashes,” she said.
At the same meeting in Denver, Dr. Cabrera was surprised to be awarded the AAWD Student Leader of the Year award. “It was a huge honor to be given this award. Everyone who was nominated was incredible,” she said. “I felt it was really a group effort in the dental school; everyone should have won it.”
In May, Dr. Cabrera was awarded the Eleanor J. Bushee Senior Dental Student Award from the AAWD. The award honors senior dental students who have achieved academic excellence and have demonstrated outstanding leadership.
Dr. Cabrera said the most enriching aspect of the experience has not been the awards, but what she gained from the student chapter.
“In the stress of dental school—especially with this incredible pressure to succeed—having something outside of school to look forward to and having the ability to tap into the resources of those women who came before us has been crucial. We can learn so much from the women who blazed the trail before we started dental school,” she said.
Dr. Troendle said Dr. Cabrera and her fellow chapter leaders have already had an impact on those following in their footsteps. “The role modeling they provided to the other young women in the organization is impressive. They have shown these students how to be dynamic, competent visionaries and leaders. They set the bar very high for those who follow, and that’s a good thing.”