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Class of 2021 arrives to start DDS journey

Orientation week for D1 students is full schedule

Ann Arbor, Mich., June 29, 2017 -– The Class of 2021 arrived this week at the School of Dentistry and immediately began their immersion into the dental profession with a series of orientation sessions, equipment check-outs and their first head-and-neck anatomy class.

The 109 students, known as D1s, were accepted out of 2,178 applicants, a ratio that already makes them a highly select group, Dr. Renée Duff told the class during their orientation welcome. Each class member was chosen because of not only their undergraduate academic and leadership success but also because of their potential as skilled practitioners and leaders in the field of dentistry, said Duff, Assistant Dean for Student Services.

Members of the Class of 2021 opened dental school with a
welcome session at the Michigan League.
She compared the four years of working toward a DDS degree to the roller-coasters at an amusement park. “You are in for an amazing ride. … with ups, downs, twists, turns, challenges and definitely excitement,” she said. Citing the school’s many support services – such as financial aid, wellness, academic support – she encouraged class members to take advantage of their resources. “Don’t ever hesitate to reach out to any of us. …. we’ll offer a helping hand at every opportunity,” she said.

Dean Laurie McCauley said the goal of the school’s curriculum is to educate “a highly skilled, competent clinician, with a deep understanding of the scientific foundation of dentistry.” She added, “It is our commitment that you develop the understanding of the critical thinking skills that will serve you the rest of your career, regardless of how techniques change and procedures change, that underlying scientific core will not change.”

Eric Dutton talks to Dr. Carol Anne Murdoch-Kinch,
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.
Dental health is interconnected with the total well-being of patients, which means dentists must continually collaborate with other health care providers, McCauley told the new class. “It’s very clear that the health of the oral cavity and the craniofacial region is absolutely essential to overall health,” she said. “And that’s something that we are committed to and you will see in your engagement, your learning and your patient care here.”

Equally important, McCauley said, is ensuring students are prepared for lifelong learning. “You may be focused on May of 2021 when you graduate, but I can tell you we are focused on developing you as lifelong learners and to help you really love the ability to learn,” she said.

Drs. Elizabeth Hatfield and Noam Greenbaum, who graduated in May, provided insight and inspiration to the new class based on their just-completed DDS tenure. They urged students to efficiently organize their busy schedules; focus immediately on coursework; seek help from the many resources available at the school; join one or more social or service organizations to begin building a network of friends; and plan time away from the school to ease the stress.

Gail Oljace of Dental Informatics (in blue) and Justin
Kammo, a D4 student, assist new students Zeena Wazeer
(left) and Alexa Weisgerber with computer log-ons.
Hatfield told the new students that they will be able to work through the difficult days of dental school if they don’t obsess when they do poorly on a test and don’t give in to the normal doubts about succeeding. “Whenever it got a bit stressful,” she said, “it was good to remind myself that it’s about serving people; it’s not about me.”

Greenbaum was only half-joking when he suggested that class members should run out to a store later in their first day of dental school and buy an inflatable inner tube for floating down the nearby Huron River. He said river floats are a time-tested tradition used by dental students to bust stress.

While the majority of this year’s class is starting dental school either immediately after earning their undergraduate degree or after a single “gap year” following undergrad, Christine Uggeri took an non-traditional route. While most of her classmates majored in some type of science in preparation for dental school, Uggeri majored in hospitality business at Michigan State University and then landed a job leading bicycle tours for tourists in Italy. She said she had a “phenomenal time” at a job that any 21-year-old would jump at, but after a couple of years she realized it was a job rather than a career.

“I was interested in connecting and giving back to my community more. I spent a lot of time moving around and in transition. I wanted to be a more integrated member of my community and I feel like dentists have that,” she said.

Rita Maizy (left), a second-year student, chats with new
students (left to right) Janice Burnett, Christina Bender,
Kate Cebelak and Vani Bhatia.
Uggeri was familiar with dentistry because her father started with a DDS before moving on to a medical degree and career as a doctor in her hometown of Kalamazoo. She began taking dentistry’s prerequisite science courses a few at a time at Western Michigan University, then realized she needed to go year-round to speed up completing the requirements for applying to dental school. Because her first bachelor’s degree required none of the science courses, she had to take so many that she decided to go ahead and earn an entire second bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at 18,” she said. “I kind of got directed into a career, like, ‘You are good at talking to people. You should go into the hospitality business.’... So I did that for a while, but getting older I learned a little bit more about myself, and my drive amped up – what I found myself capable of doing and my confidence came with it. And I thought I can make a difference. Even though I started slow, I can achieve greater things so I pushed myself to do that.”

Vince Labinpuno grew up in the Philipppines but spent most of his childhood in California where his father was stationed in the U.S. Navy. He did his undergraduate work at Brigham Young University in Utah, majoring in physiology and developmental biology. After a gap year as a substitute teacher in Utah, he is starting dental school at U-M with an eye toward running his own practice. “I really liked the fact that I can get a lot of repeat patients. I have a business minor and I like that I can have my own practice and take care of that aspect of it as well. I think it’s kind of fun to build a business out of dental care,” he said.

Trenton Dunford examines his typodont as he and
classmates move into their stations in the Sim Lab.
He said he was nervous on his first day, “especially with the number of classes we take and the depth that it goes to.” And he acknowledged being a bit uneasy about the head-and-neck anatomy class. “But don’t get me wrong,” he said, “I’m really excited to finally get to do what I’ve been trying to do.”

Donni Harris, a D1 from Detroit who majored in biology at U-M, said her first-day reaction to starting dental school was a mix of looking both forward and thinking back on how she got here. She decided on dentistry because a family friend was her family dentist. “I’m feeling good,” she said as she waited to have her portrait taken during the afternoon of the first day. “This morning I had a moment – just the emotions of working so long and so hard to get here, and realizing I did it.”


The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral health care education, research, patient care and community service. General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan. Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists, and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies. Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide. For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at:

Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communication, at, or (734) 615-1971.

A single beam of sunlight lit up only Janice Burnett as the 109-member class gathered for their group photo in the Sindecuse Museum atrium, prompting the photographer to ask her to move out of the bright light. "Where am I supposed to go?" seems to be her question in the crowded space.