Dr. Wanda Wright receives ECU’s Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award
Wanda Wright, RN, DDS, MS, MSD, assistant professor and division director of dental public health, has received ECU’s 2017-2018 Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award.
“The award builds on and celebrates the strong service-learning tradition at ECU,” said Dr. Dennis McCunney, director of ECU’s Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement, which presented the award for the first time this year.
The award recognizes Dr. Wright for her work this spring with third-year dental students in her Community Oral Health Practice 8840 course. She asked the students to reach out to social services organizations in Pitt County to develop and implement oral health projects for target groups such as seniors, children, or staff members.
“I want students to be competent to communicate and collaborate with groups and individuals to promote oral and general health and to be able to select strategies, resources and interventions appropriate for the prevention of oral diseases in the community,” said Dr. Wright.
The students met in small groups with their organization on at least three occasions to fully understand the organization’s mission, to design the project, and to implement the project with the target audience. They also presented their projects to classmates, and each student wrote a reflection based on their experiences.
Dr. Wright views her course as an important stepping stone in preparing students for their fourth-year experience treating patients at the school’s community service learning centers across North Carolina and for a life time of caring for patients.
“By interacting with people from various cultures, students are able to work effectively with a greater depth of understanding about human and cultural diversity and issues related to disparities in access to dental care,” she said.
Student Kiersten Bethea’s group chose to review oral hygiene instruction, denture care, and tobacco cessation with a group of aging adults at an assisted living center in Greenville. The students also discussed with the staff how to properly help residents maintain oral health and hygiene.
“The experience opened my eyes to the fact that the elderly population is often overlooked within the dental profession. Several research articles that my group referred to emphasized that the elderly population, and especially those that are in assisted living facilities, are often lacking dental care or are receiving sub-par or infrequent dental care,” said Kiersten.
She added, “As a future dental professional, I will ensure that my office has some form of outreach specific to the elderly population and that we have a presence in local assisted living centers to ensure that this population is being optimally cared for.”
Matthew Moore and his group also worked with aging adults. The group developed a BINGO game that provided oral health lessons with a dose of fun. Matthew said he learned as much from his audience as they learned from him.
“For example, he said, “some of the patients did not have full cognitive function, which caused us to adjust not only our hearts but our materials and to slow down the pace of the game as well. We learned how to approach patients within their safe space. I was also under the impression that most of the patients would not have their natural teeth or that most would have some sort of removable prosthesis, which was not the case and caused us to adjust our presentation.”
Laura Mercer and her group partnered with an adapted physical education class at Farmville Central High School in Farmville, N.C. Though she had not previously worked with special needs students, Laura had some preconceived ideas about the students’ abilities and readiness to learn about oral health and nutrition. After spending time with the students and their adapted physical education representative, her perspective changed.
She said, “To my surprise, I learned a lot about myself and about others. I learned that mentally disabled persons are not at all what movies make them out to be. All of the students were very kind and smart. This experience is relevant to my life. It is important for my career, because more than likely, I will see patients with mental disabilities in my practice. I need to see them without judgment and provide the treatment they need.”
The experience prompted Laura to explore the concept of implicit biases and become more aware and pre-emptive regarding her own biases.
Morgan Barnes was also in the group that partnered with the adapted physical education class. Her experience was similar to Laura’s. “I had a preconceived notion that all students with special needs would be low functioning in terms of social, physical, and mental abilities,” she said.
After a few weeks of getting to know the students, exercising with them in the gym, and observing their interactions with each other and with their instructor, Morgan’s perceptions also shifted.
“Going forward, I will no longer view these individuals with the label ‘special needs’ and will rather see them as human beings just like everyone else. I plan to carry this view point as a health care provider and treat those with special needs just as I would treat other patients,” she said.
Dr. Wright said, “By reflecting on the service-learning experience and expressing the reflection verbally and in writing, students demonstrated a greater understanding of their potential role as dental care providers and advocates for change.”
Dennis McCunney said, “Dr. Wright represents the best of ECU – bringing together scholarship, service, and teaching to enhance our local communities. She is a passionate educator and health professional, and we are thankful for her great work on behalf of ECU.”
As fourth-year students in 2018-2019, Kiersten, Matthew, Laura, and Morgan and their classmates will gain hands-on experience treating patients at the school’s community service learning centers in Ahoskie, Brunswick County, Davidson County, Elizabeth City, Lillington, Robeson County, Spruce Pine, and Sylva.
Each student will complete nine-week rotations at three different centers, allowing them time to get to know the people and the terrain. Their experiences in Dr. Wright’s class will serve them well as they continue learning from diverse populations.