Dr. Ernie Lacy (center) works with a group of students on a field trip to TAMHSC-BCD from Benjamin Franklin Middle School.

A Center of Excellence to advance diversity in faculty and students at Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry has been established through a new $3.4 million grant to the college from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers of Excellence program.

Awarded through the department’s Health Resources and Services Administration, the competitive grant program for health professions schools was developed to strengthen the national capacity to produce a quality health care workforce with racial and ethnic diversity that is representative of the U.S. population.

“I’m delighted by the opportunities that this grant will afford to the students and potential faculty of TAMHSC-BCD,” said Sen. Royce West. “Minorities will be recruited, retained and successfully matriculated through the academic and professional rigors of TAMHSC-BCD, thus increasing the diverse pool of health professionals who will address current and emerging health issues for years to come.”

Starting with first-year funds of nearly $700,000, with recommended renewal for four additional years, TAMHSC-BCD’s five-year grant is titled “Bridge to Dentistry: Awareness to Practicing, Teaching and Research” and will be led by Dr. Ernestine Lacy, professor and director of student development in the Office of Student Development and Multicultural Affairs. The Center of Excellence will provide the college with the opportunity to further increase the numbers of underrepresented minority students that it enrolls and faculty that it appoints and retains by providing support that enhances the success of these individuals.

“We are ecstatic about receiving this highly competitive award,” said Dr. Lawrence E. Wolinsky, TAMHSC-BCD dean. “This will give Dr. Lacy and her team the opportunity to lead our college in the significant expansion of an already successful pipeline program. The grant also bolsters the dental school’s ability to serve as a national resource and educational center for diversity and minority health issues.”

The center is a comprehensive program linking the Dallas Independent School District, three undergraduate institutions and community-based entities to provide activities involving Pre-K through dental students and dental faculty. Designed to establish, strengthen and expand programs that enhance the academic performance of minority students attending TAMHSC-BCD, the center also will serve as a catalyst for the college to further institutionalize its commitment to improving access to care for underserved communities.

It will enhance programs that educate TAMHSC-BCD students in providing health care services to a significant number of minorities at off-campus, community-based facilities. It also will strengthen the development of a large competitive applicant pool and establishment of an educational pathway for health professions careers.

The additional funding will enable the college to improve information resources, clinical education, curriculum and cultural competence as they relate to minority health issues and help facilitate faculty and student research in health issues particularly affecting minority groups.

“Although we take great pride in having the nation’s most diverse dental school enrollment, our true success ultimately lies in our ability to establish a replicable model for graduating dental professionals who are committed to improving the oral health of urban and rural underserved communities in Texas and beyond,” said Wolinsky.

— LaDawn Brock