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NAU: Proud of its History, Grateful for Community Connections

We are thankful that this community supports our students and our university, and we are dedicated to enhancing collaborations and strengthening our ties.

Northern Arizona University’s economic impact is growing. We create jobs, intellectual property, technology transfer and business incubation, and we educate and develop the sophisticated, high-level workforce that meets the demands of today’s industry. 

We also strive to do more in our community. Last academic year, our students contributed more than 20,000 hours of volunteer service to charitable organizations through our community service programs.

Just last month, NAU hosted a two-day event providing free dental care to hundreds of Northern Arizona community members. Working 12-hour days on June 7 and 8, volunteers treated patients with dental issues small and large. We partnered with the Arizona Dental Mission of Mercy (AZ MOM) and a number of local sponsors to create an event that brought the community together, helped neighbors in need and provided NAU students an invaluable learning opportunity.

I first heard about an event like this in Phoenix and thought the people of Northern Arizona could benefit from the same type of care. The dean of the College of Health and Human Services, Lynda Ransdell, and the chair of our dental hygiene program, Tracye Moore, jumped on the opportunity to figure out how NAU could make this happen for Northern Arizona. They saw the significant need for dental care in the area as well as the expansive community of dentists and dental hygienists willing to help, and started putting the pieces together.

The result was the first AZ MOM North dental event taking place on the NAU campus, coordinated by assistant clinical professor of dental hygiene Amy Smith. On the planning committee with Smith were dental hygienists and NAU alumnae Kim Freeman and Jenny Garcia. Garcia is also an adjunct dental hygiene instructor. Among several community partners were the Central Arizona Dental Society Foundation, which helped NAU with organization and implementation, and the Arizona Dental Association and Northern Arizona Dental Society.

For the event, Rolle Activity Center was transformed into a 50-chair dental clinic. Treatments included fillings, cleanings, extractions, root canals, X-rays and denture fittings. All members of the community in need of dental care were welcome without restriction or prior qualifications, and patients were not screened for insurance status, income level or residency status.

During that two-day period, 616 patients were served, resulting in $650,000 in free dental services – an average of $1,055 in free dental services per patient.

Our student volunteers were involved at every level, getting hands-on experience working with patients in a supervised, real-life setting. In addition to dental hygiene students, nursing students performed health assessments on patients checking in and physical therapy students screened patients for temporomandibular disorder, a pain in the jaw joint and muscles that control jaw movement.

Other areas of our NAU community also joined in as NAU PD, parking services, facility services and information technology services all had leadership roles in planning and implementing this monumental task.

This event provided a wonderful opportunity for the NAU and local communities to work together to provide dental care to our neighbors in need and helped our students learn about giving back to the community and the powerful impact that can have.

My thanks to the hundreds of dentists, community members and NAU volunteers for making this a tremendous success. QCBN

By Rita Cheng

Rita Cheng is the president of Northern Arizona University.

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