SPRINGing into Action: Student Organization Outreach

collage of four photos, all containing people in dental scrubs
Clockwise from top left: ASB-affiliated clubs SNDA, HSDA, SIDE, and UCLA's chapter of AAPHD each participated in engaging outreach initiatives this spring.
June 7, 2024

The spring 2024 academic quarter saw numerous organizations affiliated with the Associated Student Body at the UCLA School of Dentistry (ASB) engage in outreach initiatives to bring dentistry to the community, throughout Southern California and beyond. Among the most active of ASB’s 40-plus affiliated clubs were UCLA’s chapter of the American Association of Public Health Dentistry (AAPHD), the Hispanic Student Dental Association at UCLA (HSDA), Students for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (SIDE), and the Student National Dental Association at UCLA (SNDA).

AAPHD (@aaphd.ucla on Instagram) members took on the noble goal of providing oral health care to communities in rural areas of Panama, utilizing their spring break in late March to undertake a humanitarian trip. The participants learned adaptability, finding workarounds to no electricity, and having limited resources with which to perform dental care. They recall traveling by boat to reach remote islanders who had no access to dental health services.

“In summary, the AAPHD Panama project not only addressed the immediate dental needs of the community but also laid the foundation for better oral health through education and prevention,” explained the club’s Dental Mission Initiative Coordinators Cristal Landa and Mersedeh Momeni, both D.D.S. ‘25.

“This holistic approach underscores the importance of combining direct care with preventative measures to create lasting improvements in community health,” added the missing trip coordinators, who thanked Drs. Al Khalifah, Ortega-Verdugo, and Urdaneta for their support.

Back in Westwood, SNDA (@snda_at_ucla) hosted its annual Impressions Day on May 4 to support pre-dental students from underrepresented minority groups in navigating dental school applications. The event involved guidance for the application process and insights into life as a UCLA dental student before wrapping up with a hands-on workshop teaching attendees to take alginate impressions.

“Our goal with Impressions Day is to make essential information regarding dental school and the admissions process more accessible to underrepresented minority pre-dental students. This annual outreach event also aims to familiarize students with the UCLA School of Dentistry and highlight its unique qualities,” said SNDA at UCLA co-presidents Chelsea Frimpong and Trenice Mayfield, both D.D.S. ‘25.

“Why would we not want to be part of something that is ultimately going to improve the health of communities in general?,” asked SIDE Co-President Iman Evans, D.D.S. ‘25, rhetorically.

On May 11, SIDE (@uclaside) members partnered with their peers from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the Department of Education’s Upward Bound program to mentor low-income, disconnected, and first-generation high school students to high school students interested in pursuing healthcare careers. Upward Bound allowed students to engage in activities that would help them in their journey to dental or medical school. The program touched on important topics such as imposter syndrome and stress, finances, facing racism in higher education, etc.

“Dentistry is at its core a community-driven industry. This means that we can learn, read, study and know every medical fact about the body, but without interpersonal skills and cultural exposure, we will fail to be proficient professionals,” Evans explained. “We need to be able to understand, respect, and reach our patients no matter where they come from.”

Finally, we spotlight an active spring quarter for HSDA (@hsda_ucla), which participated in three community outreach events. Up first was the Latina Youth Leadership Conference 2024 in May. HSDA’s goal with this initiative was to introduce dental careers – and higher education in general – to young Latina women.

“By participating in the Latina Women’s Youth Conference, we aimed to inspire these young women to envision a future where they can achieve their dreams and contribute to their communities through careers in dentistry and other fields,” explained HSDA co-Presidents Lester Gopar and Halondra Zamora, both D.D.S. ‘25.

Their next event, the Latinxs/Chicanxs for Community Medicine 20th-Annual Pre-Health Conference on April 27 in UCLA’s Geffen Hall, aimed to clarify the process of applying to dental school and life as an oral health care provider.

“This initiative directly relates to improving dentistry and dental outreach by encouraging students to consider careers in dental health and other critical healthcare fields in underserved communities,” said Gopar and Zamora.

To close a busy spring quarter, in May HSDA participated in Hollenbeck Middle School’s Outreach Event, working with sixth-to-eight graders from underrepresented minority (URM) groups in Boyle Heights to discuss professional pathways in dentistry.

“By introducing middle school students to dental careers and dispelling misconceptions about the profession, we laid the foundation for a more diverse and inclusive future in dentistry. Our goal was not only to spark interest in these young minds but also to plant the seeds for a more equitable and representative dental community,” remarked the HSDA leadership team.

Common themes of support, mentorship, and the critical importance of oral health care are woven through the outreach events of these four student organizations. The ultimate goal was to uplift communities, whether that be enhancing the smiles of rural Panamanians, or encouraging those underrepresented in dentistry to envision themselves entering this meaningful profession.