The University of Michigan School of Dentistry Pathways Project is a co-curricular program that allows students to explore areas of interest within dentistry. Unlike the four-year core curriculum, in which all students take the same courses at the same time, Pathways allows for student-directed experiences within three distinct “paths”: research, leadership, and healthcare delivery. The program includes faculty mentoring and culminates in an individual or group project one to seven semesters in duration. At inception, all 400+ DDS student participate in Pathways across their four years of dental school.
Importance and Impact of Project or Work
There is no set curriculum or work plan for a dentist once she’s running her own practice. However, due to the intensive nature of the dentistry curriculum, traditionally, the first two years of the program are rigorously scheduled with no time for exploration and no room for student self-direction. Not only is this a disservice to students who will have to self-direct during their careers, it’s stifling to students to want to excel and begin making a difference in people’s lives.
Projects in the first few years of the program have made huge impacts, including:
- Providing oral health care to veterans without insurance
- Providing oral health care, clean water, and computers to students at rural schools in Kenya
- Developing expertise in the latest digital dentistry techniques
- Research on brain and motor behavior adaptations in congenital orafacial anomalies
- Studies of gender in patient-dentist relationships
- Explorations of the efficacy of various techniques for teaching oral health care to children
Students do significant good in the world through their Pathways projects!
Roles and Tasks Accomplished
I served several roles in the Pathways program: project manager, curriculum designer, and program evaluator. The most challenging part of my involvement with the program was the timing: the core group of faculty planners had had six months to take the project from concept to enrollment. I was brought in over a year after the first students began the program. Therefore, this was a difficult case of “building the bridge as we walked on it” for an exceptionally complex program. Specific accomplishments with which I assisted the group include:
- Compiling and refining existing goals for the three paths into a cohesive set of Pathways Program Goals
- Finalizing activities and policies for all four years of the program for each of the three paths – including consensus-building among six co-directors and two administrative staff in less than an hour per week
- Writing the policy manual for students, faculty, and administrators
- Needs analysis and software selection, customization, and implementation of software to track students’ progress through the program
- Student and faculty training sessions in person, in print, and via online videos
- Developing the program evaluation plan
- Collecting and analyzing program data and writing initial program evaluation reports
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