Spring 2014

The Gift That Keeps Giving

Endowed professorships seed exceptional teaching, research and scholarship—forever

By Dan Eisner

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Athena Papas is a researcher whose work has had immediate impact. Mark Nehring has focused his career on underserved populations. Daniel Green inspires students in endodontics. Photos: Kelvin Ma, Alonso Nichols

Talented and passionate professors have helped position the School of Dental Medicine as a leader in education, research, patient care and community service. Generous donors who create endowed professorships—one of the highest academic honors a university can bestow on a professor—allow Tufts to attract, retain and recognize such gifted faculty members.

The dental school’s three endowed professorships, also known as chairs, provide the funding necessary for an exceptional teaching and research enterprise, and because these positions are endowed, they will exist as long as the school does.

“Endowed professorships benefit the dental school in many ways,” says Dean Huw Thomas. “They help us invest in the people who have been instrumental in setting high academic standards.” Read on to learn about the dental faculty members who hold these endowed chairs:

Athena Papas, J66, G91P, A97P, A04P

Athena Papas has a history of firsts. In 1971 she became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in oral biology at MIT. Three years later, she and a classmate became the first women since World War II to graduate from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. And in 2000, she was the first faculty member in dental school history to be named to an endowed professorship.

Papas was awarded the Erling Johansen, D49, Endowed Professorship in Dental Research, named for a former dean of the dental school, in recognition of her achievements in dental research. Many of her discoveries have led to treatments that have improved people’s lives—a rinse that heals mouth sores in patients who have received a bone marrow transplant or undergone radiation therapy, and a medication that stimulates saliva production in people with Sjögren’s syndrome, which can lead to xerostomia, or dry mouth.

Edward Becker, D34, H94, a dental school benefactor who has named the alumni center and a scholarship at the school, donated $1.65 million to establish the chair. He named it in honor of Johansen, an alumnus who served as dean from 1979 to 1995.

“It was a great honor and a wonderful recognition” to be named to the professorship, Papas says. “I was able to bring more grant money to the school after I got the endowed chair. I think it created a certain level of prestige.”

Mark Nehring

Mark Nehring wanted to play an active role in providing community service. The opportunity to become the Delta Dental of Massachusetts Professor in Public Health and Community Service and chair of the department of public health and community service was one of the main reasons he came to Tufts in 2012. Before that, he served as acting chief dental officer for the federal Health Resources and Services Administration and chief dental officer of the agency’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau. He administered grant assistance and support to states whose underserved populations were not getting appropriate dental care. The Delta Dental Professorship provided the perfect opportunity to be more hands-on.

“Rather than administer limited support to states to address health needs, I wanted to be part of an academic institution whose faculty and students were trying to address those needs,” Nehring says. “I wanted to help with the implementation of innovative, integrated programs to make a difference in improving health, especially for those who were underserved or economically challenged.”

“I was able to bring more grant money to the school after I got the endowed chair. I think it created a certain level of prestige.” —Athena Papas

The endowed professorship, established in 2006 with a $5 million donation from the insurance provider for which the chair is named, was instrumental in establishing the school’s department of public health and community service. Before then, the school’s public health and community service efforts were conducted through several departments. The endowment also assisted the school in developing an electronic patient record to evaluate educational and clinical outcomes for special needs patients.

The endowment and the new department have allowed the dental school to increase its community outreach, including an expanded internship program that is giving students “experience in communities that are different from what they’re familiar with,” Nehring says.

Daniel Green

Daniel Green, chair of the department of endodontics and former director of postgraduate endodontics, is the newest faculty member to be awarded an endowed chair, the Winkler Professorship of Endodontics. The professorship was established in 2013 by a bequest from Thomas F. Winkler III, A62, D66, D10P, DG12P, a longtime university trustee and former chair of the board of advisors to the dental school.

Since arriving at Tufts in 1996, Green has been inspiring his students. Elizabeth Winkler Jones, D10, DG12, Thomas  Winkler’s daughter, calls Green a great mentor. “He’s so bright and charming, the kind of person others always gravitate to,” she says.

“So when he told me I would be a good endodontist, that made all the difference. There was no other choice for me. And from that moment on, I wanted to do my very best to prove him right. He brings that out in every single one of his residents.”

As proud as Green is of the recognition, he’s pleased for another reason, too.

“Tom Winkler and I were very close, personal friends—he was one of my best friends,” he says. “That makes the honor very special.”

To learn more about funding a professorship at the School of Dental Medicine, contact Maria Tringale, senior director of development and alumni relations, at maria.tringale@tufts.edu or 617.636.2783, or Susan Peecher, senior associate director of development, at susan.peecher@tufts.edu or 617.636.6792.

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