Dugoni research program empowers students to combine passion, skills

student in lab

Dugoni's Personalized Instructional Project is a student-driven activity that combines mentorship with in-depth experiential learning in a student’s area of interest.

Students at University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry are combining their education and passion for research in a unique opportunity offered in few dental schools.

The Personalized Instructional Project is a student-driven activity that combines mentorship with in-depth experiential learning in a student’s area of interest. Added to Dugoni’s curriculum in 2018, the program allows students to work independently or in a group to design a project under the guidance of an expert mentor. There are 60 active mentors, made up of faculty, alumni and field experts.

“The type of projects are limited only by the students’ imaginations,” said Terry Hoover, vice chair of the Department of Diagnostic Sciences and faculty director for the program.

David Ojcius, assistant provost for research and scholarship and co-chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences, said he hasn’t seen a proposal turned down.

A couple of years ago, a group approached Ojcius with the idea to compare health care systems in Taiwan and the U.S. The students traveled to Taiwan and wrote a summary of what they learned, including that dental care in Taiwan is included in the national health insurance, which makes dental care more accessible in Taiwan than in the U.S.

Most dental schools don’t require a research component for students, Ojcius said. Dugoni is one of the few schools that has a personalized instruction project. This opportunity stimulates students to go beyond the traditional curriculum and pursue a personal interest.

Nearly 170 students complete a project every year—some students opt to do two or more. Previous projects include the creation of a board game to teach dental hygiene to children, researching the effects of e-cigarette use on oral health and presenting to visually impaired individuals about brushing and flossing.

Steve Leung ’22 chose to complete three projects—co-author an op-ed, create a database that links dental trends on social media with treatments and scientific backing, and orthodontics research—the last of which earned him and his partner the Hinman Symposium Research Award at the OKU-Sutro Excellence Day at Dugoni. He will now present his research at the 26th Annual Hinman Student Research Symposium, which features research from dental students across the U.S.

“The (Personalized Instruction Project) allowed me to see if (orthodontics) is the right field for me,” he said.

“It was gratifying to be able to participate in a project where you collaborate with people and achieve a goal you have set in mind,” Leung added.  

There are collateral benefits, including developing soft skills, building relationships with mentors, contributing invaluable resources to the community through outreach, and the opportunity to compete for financial awards during OKU-Sutro Excellence Day.

A few students have also reported that notation of completion of their Personalized Instructional Project on their transcripts has attracted attention at post grad interviews.

“The (Personalized Instruction Project) is an investment in improving yourself and you get out as much as you put into it,” Leung said. “The possibilities are limitless.”