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Striving for new awards to support dental hygiene students

Posted by Cheryl Bell on December 29, 2023 in News
Dr. Leigha Rock (left) presents the Highest Academic Achievement Award to Katie Morgan at the 2023 Academic Award Ceremony in November  (Bruce Bottomley photos)

When Dr. Leigha Rock, director of the School of Dental Hygiene, attended her first academic awards ceremony a month after taking up her new role in in the Faculty of Dentistry in 2019, she was struck by the large discrepancy between the number of awards for dental hygiene students compared with the number for dentistry students.

"At that point, I didn’t even realize what the amounts of the awards were," says Rock. "I just stood there shaking hands while the photographs were taken."

When she learned that most of the dental hygiene awards also represented relatively small sums of money, she remembers thinking, "Well, I’d like to do something about this."

Righting the balance
The Keating-Bekkers Award in Dental Hygiene, established in 2011, provides generous scholarships to two second-year dental hygiene students ($3950 each in 2023).  Many of the other annual dental hygiene scholarships are awarded as fixed amounts or are generated by smaller endowment funds.

These gifts were generous when they were set up, says Rock, but because they are not index-linked, they produce the same amount every year. “Unfortunately, $100 is no longer as helpful as it once was.”

Keen to create greater balance between the number and value of scholarships available to dental hygiene students compared to dentistry students, Rock made enquiries about the Annual Giving Fund, to which alumni and other donors contribute modest amounts each year.

Seeing that she had signing authority on the fund, which had reached a total of $28,000, Rock was able to "carve off" $25,000 to create a $1,000 per year scholarship for 25 years.

"The amount awarded is at the discretion of the director of the School of Dental Hygiene, whoever that may be in the future," explains Rock. "So if $1,000 loses its value over time, the award can be increased or split into two awards, and it will be awarded as an annual scholarship until it is spent down."

This scholarship, the Highest Academic Achievement in Dental Hygiene Award, which is now the second highest award that the School of Dental Hygiene provides (after the Keating-Bekkers Award), was awarded to Katie Morgan at the 2023 Academic Awards Ceremony on November 7. Future contributions to the Annual Fund campaign will be used to replenish the scholarship "pot".

Turning to donors
In addition to creating the scholarship, Rock is taking the opportunity to speak with current scholarship donors about their awards. She also hopes that some alumni "will be inspired like Glenda Butt”, who recently created a bursary for bachelor of dental hygiene students, and create their own scholarship or bursary. Class gifts can also be directed in this way.

"I’d like people to know that this is an avenue that’s available," says Rock, "and that we will do fantastic things with their money."

Creating scholarships and bursaries is a wonderful way to bring alumni and students together, Rock believes, helping alumni to be involved in current students’ education. Her feeling is that when you are a member of certain professions and have reached the point where you can support yourself, you have a responsibility to give back and help the next generation of students.

Rock says she received the most life-altering piece of advice from a mentor who asked her what she hoped would be the biggest contribution she could ever make to the scientific body of knowledge. After replying that it was to get published in Nature or to discover a previously unnamed micro-RNA, she received his answer: to nurture the next generation and to incrementally push the scientific body of knowledge further.

"It made a big impact on me," says Rock. "I take that advice very seriously."