UConn Dental Student Group Recognized for Community Service

UConn’s Student National Dental Association Chapter receives second-place award in national Chapter of the Year competition

Group shot of dental students in masks behind a conference table

The UConn chapter of the Student National Dental Association includes: L-R 1st row: Farah Themistocle (Class of 2022), Talia Staiger (2023), Nanette Rivera-Panzardi (2022), Elena Carrington(2021; ) L-R Middle row: Sarita Arteaga, Flaviah Muchemi (2023), Breanna Irizarry (2022); L-R Back row: Paul Nwokeji (2022), Syed Saud (2021), and Frank Amaefuna (2023). (Photo provided by Sarita Arteaga)

UConn’s Student National Dental Association (SNDA) Chapter was awarded second place in the 2020-2021 Chapter of the Year awards within the small-chapter division. Throughout the school year, points were awarded to chapters putting on events, engaging in community service, networking with alumni, and for generating new ideas and events for the organization.

Dental students Breanna Irizarry and Paul Nwokeji (class of 2022) are co-presidents for the UConn chapter.

“Even though COVID-19 disrupted normal activities, our E-Board was able to adapt and perform just as well, if not better,” Irizarry says. “One example was four alumni series events, where past SNDA alum from various backgrounds and specialties participated in Zoom Q&As with current members. The discussions ranged from tips and tricks in dental school, to how to navigate the transitions to residency and beyond. It was extremely valuable and relevant.”

Natalia Hernandez sweeping floor in food pantry
Second-year student Natalia Hernandez is part of a group of UConn Dental School SNDA students who volunteered at a local food bank. (Photo provided by Sarita Arteaga)

Other noteworthy new events put on by UConn SNDA this year included the Echo Media Series, where members teamed up with students from the Latino Medical Student Association and the Student National Medical Association, to discuss the teachings of black history and its parallels to modern day.

“These events allowed for meaningful discussion and powerful words to be shared regarding the murder and trial of George Floyd,” Nwokeji says. “The series included guest speaker Shane Lloyd, who spoke to students about internal bias and systemic racism and how allies can contribute to change through listening, learning and discussion.”

Students, faculty, and members of the community gathered during Black History Month to showcase musical selections and spoken-word performances. A video of the event was shared with various community groups, as well. Additionally, students took time to give back through serving meals and helping organize a local food pantry, the Friendship Service Center, dedicated to serving the community’s disadvantaged populations.

According to Nwokeji and Irizarry, the chapter also distributed a wide variety of videos to schools across the region, emphasizing the importance of oral hygiene and balanced nutrition, and introducing young populations to careers in dentistry.

“Our SNDA students remained active and focused, even with the obstacles provided by COVID-19, their classes and training opportunities,” says Dr. Sarita Arteaga, associate dean for students and club faculty advisor. “They are excited to see what new opportunities are in store for them this school year, and I know they will continue supporting one another, giving back to the community, and positively representing the UConn School of Dental Medicine.”