VCU School of Dentistry students find time to give back to their school

For students in the School of Dentistry, time can be a precious commodity. Jam-packed class schedules, lab work and external rotations leave aspiring dentists little time for anything but studying.

That is one reason participants in the Student Alumni Ambassadors program are so special. They find the time to give back to their school while they are still in school.  

Starting with just five members, the student volunteer program was initiated in 2005 by the School of Dentistry’s development director, Ed Kardos, with the help Martha Bushong, assistant director of external relations.

Kardos was looking for a way to connect alumni to the school and realized that having current students share their experiences and perspectives could do just that.

“The dean’s vision is for the school to become a great school with a patient-centered, student-friendly focus,” Kardos said. “To further that vision, we aim to engage students with alumni, connecting those who have the same dream with our many successful practitioners.”

The program also helps alumni see firsthand the positive changes taking place at their alma mater.

“The program has exceeded my wildest expectations. Not only do students provide a valuable communication link between the alumni and the school, they also begin forming a vital network with their future colleagues in which they learn about practicing dentistry,” said Dr. Ron Hunt, dean of the school.

Matt Detar, a senior dental student and ambassador for two years, has come to appreciate the benefits of participating in the program. Networking and interacting with alumni give him a jump-start on his career.

“Interacting with the alumni allows me to learn things about the outside dental world that I don’t get to learn within the school. The alumni are very open to sharing their experiences with us, and many extend their contact info for us to talk more with them,” he said. “I believe the program has allowed me to develop an appreciation for alumni relations with the school.”

Serving as liaisons between the school and its alumni, the ambassadors act as tour guides of the school on Reunion Weekends and attend various alumni events, such as the annual Friends of Dental Education Dinner. Occasionally, the ambassadors are asked to do spur-of-the-moment tasks, such as showing a donor around the school.

Student ambassadors share facts about the school and talk about the various classroom and clinic spaces they are showing off. During tours, the students are encouraged to share their own perspective of the school with donors and alumni so the visitors can understand the student experience as well, Bushong said.

“These students are bright, poised and articulate. We want them to give their very own, personal perspective of the school,” she said.

For the students, the program is a win-win.

“I have enjoyed dental school, the good and the bad, and love the opportunity to share that experience with alumni,” Detar said. “The student ambassador program has been one of the greatest programs I have been involved with at the dental school.”

To make a gift to the School of Dentistry, contact Ed Kardos, director of development, at (804) 828-0324 or