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DTA Foundation Awards 10 Dental Student Scholarships

Each of the 10 dental students DTA Foundation recently selected will receive a $5,000 scholarship.  Winners were nominated by their dean and selected based on academic excellence in dentistry, financial need, and their strong commitment to community service. 

In 2012, The Robert J. Sullivan Family Foundation created a restricted fund with the DTA Foundation to support its efforts to improve dental education in the United States. The donation was made to honor the late Robert Sullivan and his love for the dental industry coupled with his strong connection to dental education. Thanks to additional contributions from the Dr. Edward B. Shils Entrepreneurial Fund and Crown Seating, the DTA Foundation has been able to increase the number of scholarships given out each year.

Each of the following scholarship recipients has already completed many community service projects, but we wanted to share a little bit about what the future holds for them, thanks in part to the donors who make these scholarships possible.

DTA Foundation/Robert J. Sullivan Family Foundation Scholarship Winners


John Morgan Buie - Loma Linda University School of Dentistry

Mr. Buie is a Texas native who knows first-hand the importance of helping communities that do not always have access to low-cost, quality oral health care.

“My brother, who has down syndrome, goes to a school for special needs children and recently they have been trying to get a low-cost health clinic set up in the area that serves people with special needs,” he said. “As soon as my parents told me about this development, I decided that this is my future. The health professionals trying to get this clinic set up do not have a dentist yet and so I figured that there isn’t a better opportunity for me as a future prosthodontist to give back to the community in a permanent way here in Texas than to help get this effort started. I figure that there’s no one who would be a better leader of a team of dentists for a population of people that often need specialist care and it’s a role I’m looking forward to helping with in the near future.”


Tayla Cunningham - University of North Carolina School of Dentistry

It may not seem obvious at first, but a background as a competitive dancer helped Ms. Cunningham in her dentistry career because through dance she learned leadership skills, the drive to excel and a commitment to achieving a goal. All of those have shaped her vision of the dental career she’d like to have after graduation.

“I would eventually like to set up a practice in a rural area, increasing access to care to those who are limited,” she said. “Additionally, I will continue to be involved with clinics similar to the SNDA CAARE Clinic in which I have the opportunity to provide free dental care to the uninsured on a consistent basis. There is a lot of work to be done in the field of dentistry with regard to proper access for all, but there is so much that we can do for our communities now as dental providers. I have taken, and will continue to take the opportunity to serve my community and contribute in whatever ways I can to close the gap. Being involved in community service has shaped who I am as a dental student and who I will be as a provider. I am committed not only to lifelong learning in the field that I love, but also to lifelong service to the community in which I am a part of.”


Pardeep Kaur - A.T. Still University Missouri School of Dentistry and Oral Health

Growing up in a small village in India, Ms. Kaur’s first trip to the dentist didn’t occur until she was 16. However, after her family moved to America, she knew that dentistry was the field she wanted to be in. She became a dental hygienist before committing to dental school.

“My ideal practice as a dentist would be in public health,” she said. “My own goals, to better oral health for the greatest number of persons possible, are met by working at a community dental clinic where I can plan and implement programs to a population rather than just individuals. Alternatively, if I do end up in private practice, I would still continue to participate in volunteer activities such as Missouri Mission of Mercy, Give Kids a Smile, Kansas City Team Smile and any other dental volunteer events I can be involved in. I have plans to become involved in actual planning of Mission of Mercy events after graduation and hopefully be part of expanding the event to every state in the U.S. These events were what inspired me to go back to school in 2013 and start learning a higher level of dental skills so I could do more for my patients. Continuing to participate in these events is my way of giving back to the community as a whole.”


Brian Lehigh - University of California Los Angeles School of Dentistry

Mr. Lehigh left a career as a chemist to go to dental school where he became involved in several community projects including one where he had a chance to work with veterans at the VA Dental Clinic in Los Angles. It was the first of many community service projects he became involved in at UCLA.

“All of these projects require a lot of work, but I do them because it is exactly what I was looking to do when I changed my career from chemistry to dentistry,” he said. “I can directly make a measurable difference in peoples' lives, and I am happy to do it. I find it personally rewarding and feel good about being able to make a positive difference in my community. The community service projects that I develop tend to benefit everyone involved, which is a key reason why they succeed. They are beneficial for me because I choose projects that I care about and am willing to devote considerable time and effort toward making them work. I get great personal reward from being able to develop a project from conception to execution and have fun solving problems that arise by thinking creatively about solutions.”


Jasma’ Leah McDonald - Meharry Medical College

Ms. McDonald grew up with the nickname Miss Tiger Teeth because of the misaligned maxillary canines that protruded from her gums. When she received braces in eighth grade she finally felt comfortable enough to raise her hand in class, make friends and allow herself to smile. She utilizes those memories to solidify her commitment to community service dentistry.

“I plan to utilize my DDS in its fullest extent, serving and providing dental services to those in under-served areas, such as the city I grew up in,” she said. “Practicing in a big city where the needs of people are already met has never been a dream of mine. I want to go to the places where I am needed, where my works and efforts can make a difference and I believe that this scholarship can help me to do just that. Aside from working within the realms of my practice, I have several community outreach programs that I would like to implement. My first initiative would be to serve local schools and provide dental education and preventative services. I would also like to work with local nursing homes providing dental screenings and geriatric care. In addition, I hope to extend my services to the community health clinic. These are just a few things that I have observed from volunteering and assessing the needs of those within my community. Wherever I practice I plan to serve the needs of that community. I will strive to build a bridge within the community, connecting health care providers and those in need.”


Debra Peterson - Western University of Health Sciences

Mrs. Peterson was married and had a young son when she decided to go back to school, earn her undergraduate degree and then go on to dentistry where she felt she could give back to her community.

“I am proof that it is never too late to follow your dreams and I believe that no matter how old we are, we all have gifts that can be returned to our communities,” she said. “Now is my time to give back and scholarships allow me to pay off debt while helping those with the most need.”


Caroline Zeller - University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry

Ms. Zeller grew up in Kansas, a child in a family full of successful introverts where she was encouraged to participate in community activities and to always give back. It is something that she continues to practice.

“My dream is to operate a clinic that is at little to no cost to the patients,” she said. “I recognize that in order to pay off my loans and make a living, this may not be possible at first. Perhaps after a few years I could be in a place that I could work for profit most days of the week and provide an evening of free care to the underserved community. I know it’s a lofty goal, but I also feel I’ve had a great deal of experience with finding a way to make things happen.”


DTA Foundation/Dr. Edward B. Shils Entrepreneurial Fund/Crown Seating Scholarship Winners


Queenate Ibeto - Howard University School of Dentistry

Even with her academic success and a thriving career in the pharmaceutical industry, Ms. Ibeto needed a challenge—the kind that only came with helping those who needed it most and dentistry seemed to fit that perfectly.

“At this point in my life, community service is a part of who I am,” she said. “Prior to coming to dental school I was very active in my community because I have a love and a passion for helping people. When I become a full time dentist this is a strength that I plan to continue to propel forward. I understand that oral healthcare habits begin at the child level and parent education is critical to insure that these habits are being executed at home. I want to develop a strong relationship with the school board and organize a group of dentists who share the same values to go into the elementary schools quarterly and teach children about oral healthcare. This is something that can continue throughout my career and ultimately have a lifelong impact in reducing oral healthcare disparities.”


Francisco Nieves - University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston

A competitive swimmer and future dentist, Mr. Nieves is committed to helping to improve oral health on a community and academic level.

“The residents of the state of Texas have subsidized my dental school education,” he said. “I believe it is my responsibility as a health professional to deliver them a return on their investment by not only treating patients with quality care in my office, but being engaged in the community and sharing evidence-based information that may promote oral health. In the future, I hope to be involved in many aspects of the profession throughout my career. I hope to continue working with Texas Mission of Mercy and organize a group of dentists and dental students on a dental mission trip to the countries I visited in my youth. When I read studies that the "U.S. spent a record amount of money on dental procedures in the emergency room", I feel like it will be my generation's responsibility to fix this problem. I would like to represent my dental peers and work with local elective officials to promote oral health prevention programs and water fluoridation. I've spent most of my life in classroom, and ironically, I anticipate returning to academia in my dental career. I enjoy teaching and working with students, especially when discussing medical complexities.”


DTA Foundation Scholarship Winner


Joseph DePalo - Harvard University School of Dental Medicine

Mr. DePalo took inspiration from his mother who once told him to be selfless, be humble and be for others. That message has helped guide him in his many community service projects throughout his years as a student.

“Each and every year I strive to grow in my commitment to serving others,” he said. “I began as a curious undergraduate just looking to learn a thing or two about what it means to give back to those less fortunate, grew into an inspired student willing to create a new service program to fill an unmet need, and for the past two years have become a leader of a large service program. Going forward, as I continue to gain clinical knowledge and skills, I am confident that I will begin to blend these new skills with my lasting desire to give back to the community. I now find myself on a career path towards pediatric dentistry with the ultimate goal of working in an underserved community with at-risk patients. I am ardently committed to remaining that humble and selfless individual and making service the focal point of my career for years to come.”