SNDA chapter yields awards, national leadership roles

The ECU School of Dental Medicine’s chapter of the Student National Dental Association (SNDA) was awarded the “Medium Size Chapter of the Year” honor for the second consecutive time at the organization’s recent virtual national convention.

Individual members from the dental school also were elected to national leadership roles; others received awards and scholarships.

“The ECU chapter of SNDA has bought into what the organization is about: providing support for minority dental students,” said Deborah Simmers, a fourth-year (D4) dental student and 2019-2020 president of the ECU SNDA chapter. “That is why our local chapter has done well throughout the years. I am proud to be a part of a high-achieving student organization and look forward to what next year will bring.”

Rachel Porter, a D3 from Charlotte, was elected national SNDA vice president; she is also president of the ECU chapter. Brittanie Height, also a D3 from Charlotte, was elected national treasurer; Fiondra Baldwin was named to the national SNDA corporate round table 1.

Simmers was awarded the Dr. Alison P. Riddle-Fletcher Memorial Leadership Scholarship, and Dr. Akeadra Bell, a 2020 graduate of the School of Dental Medicine, served as the national immediate past president and earned the NDA-SNDA Colgate Student Dentist Leadership Award and the Joseph Hines II Memorial Leadership Scholarship.

The virtual national convention had close to 800 attendees from dental schools across the nation and offered sessions on a variety of topics including financial planning, mentoring, application help, post-graduate life and more. Current dental students and practicing dentist served as panelists. Bell, Dr. Brianna Hudson ‘20 and Octavia Miller ‘23 were all featured during some of the sessions.

Miller, a rising D2, currently serves as the Class of 2023 president. During the convention panel, she added insight on becoming a brand amongst a panel of celebrity dentists.

“We will become leaders in our communities,” she said. “Particularly, when serving the underserved, it is important to build trust and relationships. We live in the age of social media, and it’s only right to utilize this resource to appeal to our patients, especially those that normally would not seek care.”

Miller uses her platforms to encourage diverse students to enter the dental profession. Height said opening the lines of communication with students who have similar goals adds to a complete education.

“It is great to be able to converse with students from all around the country about the victories and challenges we face as dental students and particularly dental students of color,” Height said. “There is an atmosphere of camaraderie and solidarity that lends support from the first year to the fourth, and beyond.”

SNDA was founded in 1972 to create a haven for minority student dentists and promote their enrollment and retention in dental school. SNDA continues this commitment to minority representation in the field and also focuses on the improvement of the provision of dental health for underserved communities.

The ECU chapter is advised by Dr. Kimberley Gise, SoDM clinical assistant professor and director of emergency care; and Dr. Loren Alves, clinical associate professor.

“The organization’s reputation for leadership has put this small school in eastern North Carolina on the map,” Gise said. “Student leadership provides a platform for students to grow their skills of effective communication, relationship building, accountability, resilience, humility and other leadership qualities that will serve them well for leadership roles as health professionals.”

Porter said the SNDA has created not only opportunities for national involvement but a safe place and a sense of belonging at ECU—something she hopes will have a positive impact on disadvantaged pre-dental and dental students.

“I also credit SNDA for allowing me to feel supported as a pre-dental student,” she said. “I had mentors that were in the organization that helped guide me on my journey to dental school. As a national officer and president of ECU’s chapter, I want to continue the legacy of SNDA and have the same impact on other students as it has had on me.”

The SNDA honors are part of a consistent pattern over the years of students from the School of Dental Medicine pursuing and holding leadership positions in national organizations.

It is no coincidence that ECU attracts students who also want to lead in SNDA,” Simmers said. “ECU SoDM selects their students with purpose; that purpose is to serve our mission, which includes ‘prepare leaders.’ Students at ECU SoDM strive to embody that mission.

Simmers also highlighted the similarity between ECU’s mission and the mission of SNDA that draws students to serve locally and nationally.

“As a dental professional,” she said, “it’s important to take on leadership roles because we will inevitably be leading in some capacity whether it be in our own private practice, hospital setting, academic setting or federally qualified health center.”

ECU’s chapter of SNDA was founded by Dr. Alex Crisp and Dr. Bridgette Jones in 2011, the same year the School of Dental Medicine welcomed its first class. Crisp, who also served as national SNDA president, said it is gratifying to see how far the chapter has come on campus and on the national level.

“A big congratulations to the ECU chapter of SNDA,” he said. “When my classmates and I started the chapter, we hoped our efforts would lay a foundation for future chapters to be prosperous. We couldn’t be more pleased with what the chapter has accomplished; it is our dreams come to fruition.”