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Columbia Dental Students Chosen for Three of Nine National NIH Summer Fellowships

By Leslie Boen

Columbia dental students Connie Gao, Xiaoming Zhang, and Magnon Reyes, all members of the class of 2005, have been awarded summer fellowships at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Columbia's School of Dental and Oral Surgery (SDOS) is the most well-represented dental school among this year's class of NIDCR fellows, with SDOS students receiving one-third (three out of nine) of the available fellowships.

Gao, a 1998 honors graduate from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (major: biochemistry and molecular biology), has worked in the laboratories of Jennifer Pinkham at the University of Massachusetts and Linda Buck at Harvard Medical School, and was the lead author on an original research paper published in the December 2001 issue of the independent journal BioTechniques. Zhang, a recent honors graduate from the University of Southern California (with dual degrees in biology and East Asian studies), spent two years as a research assistant at Johns Hopkins University under the tutelage of Paul Fuhs. Reyes, a native of Ecuador and 1998 honors biology graduate of Florida International University, is a former NIH pre-intramural research trainee and Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute summer fellow (Cornell University). All three students placed in the 99th percentile nationwide on the Dental Admission Test, a required dental school entrance examination designed to measure general academic and perceptual abilities, as well as command of scientific material.

The NIDCR summer dental student award program is designed to promote the professional careers of talented dental students through exposure to the latest advances in oral health research, clinical care and administration. Award recipients spend a summer at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., as research fellows. They are assigned to mentors and research projects that reflect their individual qualifications and interests, enabling them to gain meaningful, hands-on experience in either basic or clinical research. Fellows are encouraged to work closely with their mentors to take advantage of professional growth opportunities, such as publishing in scholarly journals and presenting research findings at scientific meetings. In turn, the recipients gain access to the state-of-the-art laboratories, clinics, and technologies -- giving them the tools to undertake valuable and rewarding research initiatives.

"The fact that we have received three out of nine awards in a prestigious national competition -- out of an applicant pool that represents over 50 dental schools from across the United States -- is an extraordinary achievement on the part of our students and our school," said Ira Lamster, dean of the School of Dental and Oral Surgery. "It not only reflects the caliber of scholars we attract to SDOS, but demonstrates the high premium we place on research as a core aspect of the dental curriculum and profession."

"I couldn't be happier for Connie, Xiaoming, and Magnon -- and for SDOS," said Martin J. Davis, clinical professor of pediatric dentistry and associate dean of student and alumni affairs at SDOS. "They are bright, motivated, talented young scholars who will get a lot from the experience and have a great deal to offer. We couldn't have asked for better ambassadors to represent both the university and the school in this program."

Since its inception in 1852 and its incorporation into Columbia University in 1917, the School of Dental and Oral Surgery has vigorously pursued its commitment to education, patient care and research. Recognizing the value to the public, SDOS established the first formal specialty education program in orthodontics in the 1920s. SDOS went on to establish programs in periodontics, endodontics, oral/maxillofacial surgery, prosthodontics, and pediatric dentistry. SDOS provides general dentistry, oral surgery, pediatric dentistry, orthodontics and other clinical services to many members of the community through its faculty practices, postgraduate and specialty practices, and pre-doctoral clinic. SDOS encourages and supports all forms of academic research efforts that have direct impact on improving oral health by fostering faculty and student participation in research and training students in current research methodologies.

The mission of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research at the National Institutes of Health is to promote the general health of the American people by improving their oral, dental and craniofacial health. Through nurturing fundamental research and the development of researchers, the NIDCR aims to promote health, to prevent diseases and conditions, and to develop new diagnostics and therapeutics. Knowledge acquisition through science and effective and efficient science transfer are the means used to contribute to improved quality of health.

Published: May 28, 2002
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002


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