Gift commemorates creation of dental hygiene progr

The creation of the dental hygiene program in the VCU School of Dentistry four decades ago marked a milestone for women in the field of dentistry. In its beginnings, the program faced challenges with resistance to dental hygiene as a discipline and the presence of women in the school. The program graduated six students in its first class – all of whom satisfied the requirements by attending dental, pharmacy and nursing classes.

“It was unheard of for women to take dental classes,” says Jackie P. Jackson (B.S.’72/D), a graduate of the department’s second class. “We were breaking new ground.”

Like others in her class, Jackson, now an employee benefits consultant, started her career in dental hygiene and later changed her line of work.

“We learned to think diagnostically because we did not take every class at the dental school,” she says.

Since then, the department has grown exponentially. The new W. Baxter Perkinson, Jr. Building features a dental hygiene office suite and includes a state-of-the-art classroom to accommodate as many as 50 dental hygiene students. The latest equipment and resources were purchased for the expanded program in preparation for increasing student enrollment, which doubled to 40 from last year.

During Reunion and Alumni Weekend this past April, the division hosted the biggest alumni event in the program’s history. A leadership group of 40 dental hygiene alumnae coordinated their efforts and helped to mark the 40th anniversary by raising $70,000, more than 10 times the average for annual giving to the division.
“These gifts mark a new milestone in the history of the dental hygiene program,” said Jim Doyle, the school’s development director for alumni engagement.

Many members of the first five classes each pledged $5,000 to benefit the division’s annual fund, the Dental Hygiene Leadership Fund. Their gift honors Ann Dinius, Ph.D., (Cert.’89/AHP), the division’s first director and the first full-time female faculty member in the School of Dentistry.

The School of Dentistry expressed its gratitude to Dinius for launching the program 40 years ago and named the new dental hygiene office suite in the Perkinson Building in her honor. Dinius learned of the naming in a surprise announcement at a donor dinner hosted by alumna Jan Milner (B.S.’72/DH; D.D.S.’83/D) and Jackson.

“It is rewarding to hear how the dental hygiene program we put together 40 years ago has had such positive influence,” Dinius said. “I couldn't be more proud of the achievements and successes of VCU graduates and that I had a part in their dental hygiene education.”

To make a gift to the School of Dentistry, contact Jim Doyle, director of development for alumni engagement, at (804) 828-1138 or