Since arriving at NYUCD in June 2009, Hans Hwa-Pen Hsu, DDS '13, hasn't gotten much sleep.
"It's usually around five hours during the week," he says. "But I've been used to this sort of packed lifestyle since my undergrad days. It's just a continuation of keeping busy and getting the most out of each day."
Indeed. Dr. Mitchell Lipp, clinical associate professor of orthodontics, has worked closely with Hans on education research projects in the Department of Orthodontics, where they have been studying how mock assessments facilitate learning and boost achievements. "What has impressed me most about Hans," says Dr. Lipp, "is that he is not only a good student in the traditional sense within the metrics of grades, but he is also always extending himself in all these other areas—research, education, leadership, service. He's really this Renaissance-type of student."
That's exactly what one of his other NYUCD research mentors, Dr. Kathleen Kinnally, professor of basic science and craniofacial biology, says: "Hans has his fingers in a lot of pies. He's one of these Renaissance-type of guys who are amazingly agile and able to handle a lot of different things."
Prior to his freshman year, Hans participated in an eight-week summer research program in Dr. Kinnally's lab, where he studied the cytotoxic properties of cellular mechanisms of five novel organogold (III) chemotherapeutic drugs on malignant MDA686LN, MSK Leuk 1 pre-malignant, and Normal Oral Epithelial cells.
"His findings won him the National AADR Student Research Fellowship, of which only 22 are awarded annually," adds Dr. Kinnally.
Hans continues to play a role in Dr. Kinnally's lab by mentoring Jacqueline Mo Tin Ng, a senior at NYU's College of Arts and Science, in moving the research project he started forward. Hans also participates in the Selective in Teaching Skills program and serves as a clinical teaching assistant, helping freshmen and sophomores with their lab work.
Says Hans, "I just like to try new things and test the boundaries of what I am comfortable with. It's a curiosity I just can't stop."
Hans was born in Vienna, where his Taiwanese parents met. At the age of 13, Hans moved with his family to Philadelphia. "I have cousins and uncles who are dentists and I had this fascination with the field," he says. "When I enrolled in Swarthmore College as an undergraduate, I already had an interest in dentistry."
A classically trained pianist, Hans spent part of his undergraduate weekends teaching piano as well as Mandarin to young children, an experience that prompted him to want to go into pediatrics. "I thought I would end up going to med school," he says.
Hans graduated from Swarthmore in 2007 with a BA in biology and Chinese studies and moved to New York City, where he worked for a year as a research technician at the NYU Langone Medical Center studying cell death apoptosis in fruit flies. "That experience of working with microscopes, of working with my hands and fingers in such precise detail, turned me back to dentistry," says Hans.
He applied to and was accepted by several dental schools and ultimately decided on NYUCD. "The most exciting thing about NYU was the diversity of the student body," says Hans. "The other thing that really turned me on was that NYU puts a lot of emphasis on research, which is a passion of mine."
Along with his love of research, Hans is passionate about education. While his work with Dr. Lipp has allowed him to combine both interests, Hans's ambition has not stopped there. Along with a former Swarthmore friend who works for Citizens Schools, a nonprofit private enterprise that brings learning experiences to middle-school children in low-income areas, Hans developed and established a 10-week after-school program, the NYUCD Apprentice Program. Each week, the program teaches students something different related to dental health, oral hygiene, healthcare issues, and the dental profession. Launched last year at the Brooklyn School for Global Studies, the program was so successful that it has been expanded to two campuses, one in East Harlem and one in Washington Heights. "This is my baby," says Hans. "What I'm most proud of."
Another area of interest for Hans is public health. "I went to Grenada this past fall and had the opportunity to work with kids and learn how to interact with them, how to get them to cooperate. It was amazing."
As if he doesn't have enough on his plate, Hans also holds numerous leadership positions at NYUCD, including: sole DDS student representative on the Research Advisory Committee (September 2011–present); 3rd-year DDS student representative for the Curriculum Review Committee (April 2011–present); NYUCD Chapter President of the National Student Research Group (July 2011–present); and NYUCD Chapter Vice President of the American Dental Education Association (ADEA).
"Hans is a leader, someone who cares about the community, someone who has this curiosity and can see dentistry on different levels and can contextualize it," says Dr. Lipp. "I want him to be a dean. I think that he could really have a major impact."