Celebrating Our Community
Alexis Cohen, Class of 2012: The Future of Public Health Dentistry

Alexis Cohen,
Class of 2012

Photo of Grenadian children by Alexis Cohen.

Alexis Cohen always knew that her longing for adventure and hands-on experience would never allow her to sit still for any length of time. The journey to NYU, where Alexis is currently pursuing dual degrees in dentistry and global public health, has been fueled by a passion to engage in the world at large and make a difference.

At NYUCD, Alexis has gone well beyond her academic requirements, tackling a remarkable array of extracurricular pursuits. She has served on NYUCD's Greening Committee; helped to plan and participate in the school's annual Oral Cancer Walk; volunteered via the Inter-American Health Alliance for one month at a health clinic in rural Guatemala, an experience that prompted her to start an NYUCD chapter to raise awareness and funds for the clinic; and has been active on the Student Council, as secretary in her second year and as president during 2009-2010. Alexis's dedication and hard work in both the academic and extracurricular arenas have garnered her awards, including an American Dental Association (ADA) Foundation Scholarship Award and an NYU President's Service Award.

"It's definitely a balancing act," says Alexis. As Student Council president, she has been especially busy. "One of my goals has been to increase collaboration and cohesiveness between the student body and the administration, which has resulted in more regular meetings to share ideas. We've also started monthly recognition awards for both students and faculty, since I felt people don't always get enough recognition."

Administrators and faculty at NYUCD who have worked closely with Alexis are struck by her unique combination of intelligence, unassuming demeanor, and solid leadership skills. Said Dr. Michael O'Connor, Vice Dean for Administration and Finance, who chairs the two-and-a-half-year-old Greening Committee, "As a charter member of the Greening Committee, Alexis has demonstrated outstanding student leadership. She has strong beliefs and articulates them very well, always backing up her views with data in a non-confrontational manner. You can't help but react positively - she's humble and effective in an understated way. That's strong leadership."

The path toward public health dentistry was a bit circuitous for Alexis. In 2003, she graduated with a film degree from Northwestern, but soon realized that a career in the movie industry was not for her. To do some soul-searching, she decided to spend time abroad and enrolled in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, sponsored by the Japanese government, which enabled her to live in Fujisawa, a city an hour outside of Tokyo. There she taught English to Japanese junior high and high school students for one year.

"I had decided I wanted to do this but then spent the entire plane ride over crying," said Alexis. "I didn't know Japanese and had never taught. But I got through it, and it was so positive, I now have no fear of putting myself in a situation where I might not know everything."

Alexis's experience in Japan jump-started her global interests. She also realized she wanted to work in a health-related field, and a friend in dental school inspired her to choose dentistry. Before enrolling at NYUCD, Alexis spent six months in Costa Rica learning Spanish, with the goal of eventually treating underserved dental patients.

In fall 2009, with the first two years of NYUCD course work behind her, Alexis began the Master's in Global Public Health portion of her joint degrees. A highlight of 2010 was the two weeks she spent in Grenada participating in the joint NYUCD–Henry Schein Cares Global Student Outreach Program's initial national oral health survey. Alexis was part of the survey team that went into schools to gather baseline data on tooth decay rates in children. In addition to her other talents, Alexis is also an excellent photographer and took the photo of the Grenadian children shown in this article. In Grenada, she worked under the guidance of Dr. Stuart Hirsch, NYUCD's Associate Dean for International Affairs and Development.

"Alexis is a great mentee," said Dr. Hirsch, "because she's that student who really appreciates the mode they're in - she's like, ‘feed me,' always wanting to know more." Added Dr. Hirsch, "She has a global perspective and a great passion to serve underserved communities. She's very special."

"Every time I tell Dr. Hirsch how thankful I am for our connection he says, ‘No, I'm thankful - you are the future.' To which I always respond, ‘No pressure, right?'"

- Stephanie Susnjara