Bulletin of Dental Education

Minority Faculty Say Mentorship Is Key

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By Nicole Fauteux

What development method is most beneficial to junior faculty members in attaining their academic career goals? According to members of the ADEA Minority Affairs Advisory Committee who completed a survey in 2012, the answer is mentorship; yet a full 37% reported that they themselves did not have a mentor network. This was just part of the less than rosy picture for faculty of color revealed during a session titled “The Current Landscape of Underrepresented Minority Leadership in Dental Education,” presented at the 2013 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition.

N. Karl Haden, Ph.D., founder and President of AAL, shared a preliminary analysis of this 2012 Underrepresented Minority Leadership Data.

“If we take out Meharry and Howard [Universities],” says Dr. Haden, “you can count on two hands the number of underrepresented minority department chairs among hundreds across the country.”

One remedy he suggested would be to get faculty of color into leadership programs earlier in their careers since it can take a decade to move into leadership positions. Tobias E. Rodriguez, Ph.D., Vice President of Education at AAL, elaborated on some of the newer leadership programs that are available to ADEA members. These include the ADEA Summer Program for Emerging Academic Leaders, which was revived in 2011; the ADEA/AAL Compass Program for Academic Achievement, which focuses on grant writing, educational research, and writing for publication; or the ADEA/AAL Institute for Teaching and Learning (ITL), which is geared toward new faculty members and those who have chosen academia as a second career. The participation of faculty of color in these programs ranges from 15 to 23%.

Dr. Rodriguez noted that while attending the prestigious Leadership Institute is “a laudable goal,” the curriculum is geared toward more established faculty members. He suggested that most junior faculty would be better served by one of the programs mentioned above.

Lavern Holyfield, D.D.S., who has participated in ADEA leadership development programs, spoke about her experience entering academia mid-career. She said her first five years at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry (TAMBCD) were “bliss” because she didn’t know what she didn’t know about tenure and promotion. She had been happy caring for patients and teaching students, but eventually realized she would need to do more to move up the career ladder.

Dr. Holyfield served as Co-chair and then Chair of the Faculty Development Committee, but her devotion to this work conflicted with other demands from her department. Fortunately she was bold enough to approach her dean, and she convinced him to appoint her as Director of Faculty Development. He also agreed to send her to ITL even though she had been teaching for eight or nine years at the time.

“I came straight from private practice,” Dr. Holyfield says. “I had very little if any background in teaching, so I felt that if I were going to help faculty, I needed to be on top of that game as well. Then the Leadership Institute opportunity came forward, and the Dean supported me again.”

In her current position as Director of Faculty Development, Dr. Holyfield has vowed that no faculty member will remain blissfully ignorant during their early years at TAMBCD. She has developed an orientation program and assigns a mentoring team to each new member of the faculty. Each new hire goes through cultural competence training, and a faculty development networking experience works with new faculty on pedagogy. She is currently developing continuing education courses for private practice dentists who want to teach at TAMBCD, and she has plans to do more.

As to the issue of mentorship, Dr. Holyfield explained that this often falls to the department chair, but doesn’t always work out. In her case, the department chair left shortly after she was hired, an interim chair on the brink of retirement was minimally engaged, and the chair who ultimately came on board needed time to get up to speed.

“I was fortunate because Dr. Charles Berry [Associate Dean for Academic Affairs] was there,” she says. “He has been, and still remains, my mentor. The advice and guidance that he offered is just unmatched.”

Leo E. Rouse, D.D.S., Dean of the Howard University College of Dentistry, rounded out the panel with what he called a sermon that was largely inspirational. Dr. Rouse has a strong record of engaging his faculty in development programs. He has sent ten faculty members through ITL and is about to send his fifth faculty member to the Leadership Institute.

“The first Leadership Institute Fellow is now my Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs,” Dr. Rouse announces. “The most recent graduate is now my Interim Chair of Orthodontics, the prior graduate is now my lead Director for Restorative Services, and the Fellow who just graduated this Friday is now my lead Director for Fixed Prosthodontics.”

“I am convinced that at all 65 of our institutions, we have great role models and mentors,” he continues. “Where we fall short is in having the conversation about how to become a full professor, a department chair, a program director. How do you navigate through the system?”

Leadership programs are clearly part of the answer, and perhaps the most accessible part. As the survey data and Dr. Holyfield’s experience made clear, good mentoring can be harder to come by.

“Mentoring is not easy,” offers Dr. Rouse. “It’s like a marriage. It’s a commitment to long-term engagement.”

Dr. Haden recognized the need for additional resources in this area. He suggested that perhaps the time is right for ADEA to consider establishing a formal mentoring program to support faculty of color.

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