Dugoni School’s Medallion of Distinction award recipients have global impact

three people pose together for a picture

(L-R) Dean Nader Nadershahi, Patricia King and James Rolfe

For their immeasurable impact at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry and around the world, the Dugoni School Alumni Association recently awarded Patricia King ’08, ’09 and James Rolfe ’68 with its highest award—the Medallion of Distinction.

King was a driving force behind the success of the International Dental Studies program launched in 1987. Rolfe, a Santa Barbara area dentist, has helped hundreds of thousands of Afghans receive dental care as founder of the Afghanistan Dental Relief Project. The awards were presented during the 124th annual Dugoni alumni weekend Feb. 24-25

Professor Emeritus Alan Budenz also was selected as a Medallion of Distinction honoree, but his award was deferred until he can attend the ceremony in-person in 2024.

patricia king

Patricia King

Patricia King “defined humanism”

For 28 years, King was “the backbone” of the Dugoni School’s International Dental Studies program—serving as mentor, confidant and teacher.

The program trains internationally educated dentists to practice in the United States. King started as program coordinator in 1990 and eventually became program director.

“Dr. King has truly defined humanism by her unparalleled support, care and love to the International Dental Studies students,” adjunct faculty member and alumnus Amro Elkhatieb ’16 wrote in her nomination letter. “She strived to make the program better every day. She was always there when we needed guidance, a listening ear or even advice about our personal lives.”  

King worked tirelessly for students who had challenges with visa applications. Her expertise was sought by dental schools nationwide.  

As an assistant professor she taught an intercultural communications and ethics course and was well-attuned to students’ diverse cultures and unique needs. She earned the dental school’s Helix Curriculum Innovation Award in 2017 for a project she piloted to improve students’ communication skills. 

“She quietly shepherded hundreds of students through the program,” Associate Professor and alumna Lisa Itaya, ’98, ’99, ’00, wrote in her nomination. “Its success can be attributed to the foundation that Dr. King built embracing the diversity that our International Dental Studies students bring to the program.” 

King earned her master’s and doctorate in education from University of the Pacific’s Benerd College. Though she retired in 2018, her impact continues to be felt. A scholarship fund was created in her honor by two members of the class of 2022.  

James Rolfe stands next to Nader Nadershahi

James Rolfe with Dean Nader Nadershahi

James Rolfe’s care impacted a country 

More than 300,000 Afghans have received much needed dental care through the non-profit non-governmental organization Rolfe founded—the Afghanistan Dental Relief Project.

Along with a clinic that provides free services, he established training programs for dental hygienists, assistants and technicians. The nonprofit also trains practitioners, with a focus on recruiting women. 

“Dr. Rolfe has sacrificed his comfort, well being, career, and livelihood, so that thousands of people may receive basic treatments we take for granted,” said Martin Kim, a periodontist and board member of the Afghanistan Dental Relief Project. “Countless people with dental pain may turn to hashish or heroin as a desperate measure to alleviate their discomfort—Dr. Rolfe has in many cases prevented such tragedies.

“He has been an inspiration and role model to the local dentists, politicians and patients alike, in demonstrating the importance of being a good human being.”  

The huge undertaking, primarily funded by Rolfe, began in 2003 when he traveled to Afghanistan to treat children at an orphanage for boys. After treating one child, he would enlist that boy to help with the next child in line. 

“I saw that these kids were really smart and have a lot of abilities, but they don't even have shoes,” Rolfe recalled. “So I thought, ‘I'm going to let these kids help me.’ And they worked really well as dental assistants.”

Rolfe’s extraordinary efforts were recognized in 2010 when he received the U.S. National Award for Citizen Diplomacy.

Twenty years after its founding, Rolfe still actively works to expand the services offered by his nonprofit.

“I want to thank the dental school for giving me the skills that allowed me to do this,” Rolfe said upon receiving the award.

At the age of 83, Rolfe continues to practice dentistry full-time in Santa Barbara.