Dental College of Georgia

DCG Confers Inaugural Diversity Awards

Written by Stacey Hudson

The Dental College of Georgia celebrated its inaugural Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee (DISC) Excellence Awards. The awards were designed to recognize the accomplishments of faculty, staff, students, residents, units, departments, or other functional teams for their commitment and dedication to promoting a campus community that embodies trust, equity and a sense of belonging through exemplary leadership and/or service.

“The committee was very pleased with our nomination pool. It highlighted DCG talent and the nominees’ sincere commitment to uphold and advance our core values,” said Dr. Kevin Frazier, Vice Dean of the DCG. “This work requires everyone on board to make positive change and level the playing field in higher education for students, faculty and staff. These awards recognize that effort.”

  • Mr. Michael Budd, DCG Clinic Support Manager, was honored for his efforts to diversify the Business Office staff. Budd was nominated jointly by Darrell Gentry, Associate Dean of Business and Finance, and Robin Reyes, Director of DCG Business Operations. Five years ago, few men or employee of color worked in the Business Office or as clinical support personnel. Today, these departments represent greater racial and ethnic diversity, and more men have been hired onto these positions than ever before.

“Employees now have varied experiences and viewpoints which creates a larger pool of ideas for strategies and problem solving,” said Gentry and Reyes in their nomination. “Employees now have diverse skill sets which helps to serve our patients better. Our employees now look more like the customers that we serve at the DCG, which is a valued asset.”

  • Dr. Veena Pannu, Assistant Professor in the Department of Restorative Sciences, was honored for her active engagement in diversity activities. She has served as the faculty advisor for the Dental Multicultural Association for several years and is a member of the subcommittee that organized Global Diversity Awareness Month. She organized the dance demonstration and sound and photography for the event, arranged a student to choreograph a TikTok video, and even pulled her husband in to participate.

“She genuinely and enthusiastically lives out equity and inclusion every day of her life! She epitomizes the qualities of service, teamwork, promotion, collaboration and teaching. We are pleased to nominate her for this well-deserved recognition,” said Dr. Carole Hanes, Associate Dean of Alumni Affairs, and Reyes, in their joint nomination.

  • Dr. Milen Patel, a resident in the Pediatric Dentistry Advanced Education program, was honored for his lifelong work in promoting and demonstrating diversity initiatives for most of his life. Patel started as a youth volunteer with the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) Temple and worked with Red Cross, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Boys and Girls Clubs. He currently serves as Regional Coordinator for BAPS Charities, Inc., with a focus on mentoring and teaching children in various aspects of their personal and spiritual development.

“His record of service to anyone in need, and for people from diverse and various multicultural backgrounds is exemplary,” said Frazier, Dr. Nancy Young, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, and Dr. Regina Messer, Assistant Dean for Student Admission, in their combined nomination. “Most recently, he has been active on the Alumni Focus Group as part of the DCG Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee and he led the development of a concise statement on diversity for the DCG Diversity and Inclusion Webpage. We can’t think of a more qualified candidate for this recognition and his example will be a measuring stick for future resident nominees.”

  • Dr. Makua Okoye (DMD, ’22) was nominated by her peers, Amber Durand & Quentoria Walton (Class of 2023), for enhancing diversity and inclusion through recruitment, service, advocacy, collaboration and more. Okoye served as president of the Student National Dental Association for two years, led tutoring sessions for dental students, led community service activities, and coordinated the Impressions Program.

“During the Summer of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, Makua served as the voice for students during one of the diversity panels presented through DCG. She continuously gives her time, skills, energy and perspective for the pursuit of diversity and inclusion. She stands boldly as a black woman in dentistry paving the way for many who will come after her,” Durand and Walton said, in their joint nomination.

  • Dr. Annette Rainge (DMD, ’90) was nominated by Hanes and Dr. Tia Thomas-Colton (DMD, ’07) for making it her mission to highlight diversity, equity and inclusion. She is the immediate past-president of the Georgia Dental Association (GDA). Rainge worked with the National Center for Civil and Human Rights to organize a diversity workshop open to all Georgia dental professionals. She has provided mentorship, teaching and collaboration to students, at oral health fairs, and in business ethics presentations.

“As the first African American female president of the GDA, she has used her platform to speak out and ‘act out’ on behalf of diversity, equity and inclusion. She participated legislative dinners and other events across the state to bring her inclusivity message to larger audiences. We cannot think of anyone who has done more to promote DEI on the local and statewide levels. We are so proud of Dr. Rainge and the inspirational role model she is for all of us,” Hanes and Thomas-Colton said in their nomination.

  • The Dental Multicultural Association (DMA) was honored for their commitment to diversity through organizing cultural and educational opportunities, such as meals, digital outreach, events and community service. They have volunteered with Pride Month and Global Diversity Awareness Month, as well as organizing food drives for the student food pantry and delivering more than 1,400 cards to pediatric patients and staff at AU Health.

“DMA has demonstrated achievement both in the community and at the university to raise cultural awareness,” said Young and Dr. Kim Capehart, Interim Chair of General Dentistry, in their joint nomination.

A diverse and inclusive environment is crucial to providing quality dental education and patient care. In addition to increasing employee engagement and trust, a diverse and inclusive workplace emboldens new perspectives and stimulates innovation. This leads to better decision-making. The results are stronger business performance and better patient outcomes, which benefit everyone.

“The honorees differ in their area of study and work, but they are united by their passion for making positive changes at the DCG,” Frazier said. “They truly deserve this recognition for their accomplishments and their commitment to the work that lies ahead.”

  • Finally, Stephanie Perry, the DCG Director of Diversity, was honored with the Distinguished Service Award for her tireless work to increase the representation of underrepresented minorities at the DCG. In her role as a student recruiter, Perry works to combat the barriers that keep underrepresented minorities out of the dental profession. But she goes beyond her role, staying connected to students through graduation, then as alumni. She recruits them to return as mentors and adjunct faculty themselves.

“Stephanie is honest and willing to speak out when she sees or hears about inequities and disparities, but she is respectful and appreciative of others in all circumstances,” said her nominators, Hanes and Dr. Andrea Pierce (DMD, ’15), a DCG Clinical Faculty member. “Stephanie excels in each category of this nomination and clearly deserves to be recognized for her ongoing work to keep diversity, equity and inclusion in the forefront of our daily lives.”

A diverse and inclusive environment is crucial to providing quality dental education and patient care. In addition to increasing employee engagement and trust, a diverse and inclusive workplace emboldens new perspectives and stimulates innovation. This leads to better decision-making. The results are stronger business performance and better patient outcomes, which benefit everyone.

“The honorees differ in their area of study and work, but they are united by their passion for making positive changes at the DCG,” Frazier said. “I consider each to be champions for diversity and inclusion and they truly deserve this recognition for their accomplishments and their commitment to making the DCG a more humanistic place where everyone feels a sense of belonging and valued for who they are and what they contribute to our college culture.”

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