When Connor Moos was growing up in Eaton, Colo., there was only one dentist in town. Everyone knew that dentist and how he gave back to the Eastern plains town through philanthropy and volunteer work. Moos hopes to follow in his footsteps.
“I want to be able to make a good living and also give back to my community,” said the recent high school graduate. With his spot secured in the very first class of the BA/BS-DDS program at CU Denver | Anschutz, he’s on track to do just that.
A product of collaboration between CU Denver’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the CU School of Dental Medicine, the new BA/BS-DDS Program is designed to fill the gaps in dental service throughout the state while serving top-notch Colorado students from rural, diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds. Students complete their bachelor’s degree at CU Denver and then, if they meet the program requirements, have a reserved spot in the School of Dental Medicine at CU Anschutz.
“Half of the students in our pipeline programs would not be able to go to college if it weren’t for these programs,” Ferguson said. “We’re giving kids an opportunity to get a college education and go out and make the world a better place who wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”
Good news for students
Alexa Powell was at an outlet mall with her dad when she felt her phone vibrate. The high school senior opened her email inbox and saw a message from the university concerning the status of her admissions application to the BA/BS-DDS program.
She pulled her dad out of the Sunglasses Hut store where they’d been shopping. On the sidewalk outside, she took a moment to breathe, opened the message and yelled, “I got it!”
“We were screaming and jumping up and down outside the store and all the way back to the car,” Powell said, remembering the day she was accepted into the first BA/BS-DDS cohort.
With a mother from Singapore and a father in the U.S. military, Powell has lived all over the world. But after a decade in Colorado Springs, she feels most at home there, so she’s grateful this program exists right in her home state.
“The program was a big deciding factor for me coming to CU Denver,” said Powell, who has a track record of community service and plans to go into pediatric dentistry. “I really love the campus environment and atmosphere of diversity.”
Better service for patients
While Moos and his family could count on their local dentist, many people in rural Colorado are not so lucky.
According to the Colorado Health Institute, seven Colorado counties have no dental services and another 10 have two or fewer private practice dentists or dental clinics. In some rural areas of the state, patients may drive up to six hours to get the dental care they need. The BA/BS-DDS program seeks to alleviate these shortages.
“We help students understand the needs of the state and expose them to practitioners in Colorado, so they make professional connections,” Ferguson said, “and the hope is that they’ll decide to practice dentistry here in Colorado.”
Based on the results of the BA/BS-MD program, this approach is effective.
“The data is pretty clear,” Ferguson said. “If we can capture those students early, get them excited about dental medicine and help them understand the importance of serving Colorado, then many of them stay here.”
Set up for success
Many of the students in the BA/BS-DDS and BA/BS-MD programs come from underrepresented groups. The university supports them by assisting with the cost of undergraduate tuition and fees, as well as addressing something Ferguson calls “imposter syndrome.”
“Many of these kids come from high-risk environments, where they’ve always been told they can’t do this,” he said. “During the first semester, they feel like they don’t belong here, and imposter syndrome kicks in.”
Several mandatory summer programs for BA/BS-DDS students help reduce their stress, increase their preparedness and set them up for success.
“When they start classes in the fall, they hit the ground running,” Ferguson said. “They know what the resources are and who they can go to for help. It’s all about that relationship building, with people and with the university, to help them feel like they belong here.”
The Summer Bridge and Academic Bootcamp programs helped Moos get to know other students in the BA/BS-DDS and BA/BS-MD programs. They’ve already been texting, Snapchatting and making plans to hang out together.
“The BA/BS-DDS program is going to allow us to thrive and become successful in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise,” Moos said. “I’m really excited for what lies ahead of us.”