Message from the Herman Robert Fox Dean

Charles N. Bertolami, DDS, DMedSc
Herman Robert Fox Dean

I am probably the luckiest dental dean in the country. The faculty, students, staff, and administration at NYU have all already done great things-spectacular clinicians willing to share their expertise with those willing to learn; a unique opportunity to partner with the College of Nursing and its charismatic dean in innovative joint ventures; excellent faculty members contributing as leaders throughout the university; an extraordinary inheritance and legacy from the deanship of Mike Alfano; and the greatest possible support from the central administration, including the President and the Senior Vice President for Health.

But the luck doesn’t stop there. I am also extremely fortunate to serve as the inaugural Herman Robert Fox Dean of the NYU College of Dentistry. Just months prior to my arrival, NYUCD received a magnificent gift from Mr. Edward Fox, Chairman of the Board of the American Ballet Theatre, to establish the Herman Robert Fox Deanship in honor of his late father, a member of the Class of 1926. (See related story on page 54.) Little did I know, just one year ago, when I had the pleasure of writing an article for Global Health Nexus entitled “Is It Possible to Educate Students to Act Ethically?” that I would be writing to you again one year later as Dean.

My first Dean’s Message in Global Health Nexus provides a welcome opportunity to introduce one of my top priorities, or what I like to call “captivating ideas”-specifically, the idea of mentorship.

Mentorship forms a basic pillar of both my personal and my educational philosophy. I believe that everyone needs to have a mentor and that everyone needs to be a mentor. Mentorship means role modeling-a term that is often used but seldom defined. What, exactly, is it? I think of role modeling as a condition occurring in the mind of a student that combines a given action with the identity of another person, a mentor whom the student respects, admires, and-ideally-feels affection toward. Expressed more simply, the student says, “This is how Dr. X would do things and I want to be just like Dr. X.”

But mentorship is not role modeling alone. At a recent ADEA Board of Directors meeting, Dr. Robin Daniel, President of the National Dental Association, gave a terrific extemporaneous talk on mentoring and the people who changed his life because of it. He made a point of saying that a mentor is not solely a person to emulate, but also one who touches you. For example, a star athlete may be a role model, but he/she never actually knows the person being influenced. The mentorship role is much more intimate.

Mentoring does not begin with students. It begins with faculty who are worthy of being emulated as mentors. In turn, mentor-worthiness is a state of mind that values all those attributes that others might aspire to.

Being mentor-worthy means being involved with and desiring to empower others. It is the opposite of apathy, disgruntlement, dissatisfaction, and victimhood. At the heart of successful mentoring is something the writer Daniel Goleman1 refers to as “emotional intelligence.” To paraphrase Goleman, a person of high emotional intelligence is: Socially poised, outgoing and cheerful, not prone to fearfulness or worried rumination. Having a capacity for commitment to people or causes, for taking responsibility, for having an ethical outlook, for being sympathetic and caring in his or her relationships. Comfortable with one’s self, with others and with the social universe one inhabits.

The prospective mentor has to ask herself or himself, if this is not me, would I like it to be? It can be, but it requires a decision-along with some inside information. The inside information is that none of the attributes described are intellectual in nature; they have nothing to do with IQ, physical capacities, or manual dexterity. They are all emotional in nature. An individual possessing these emotional traits is manifestly mentor-worthy, and is certain to attract protégés who recognize qualities that almost everyone would like to see in themselves and would be willing to work to achieve.

Although mentoring starts with faculty, it does not stop there. A progression of mentor-worthiness must be recognized and endorsed by the entire organization. As Harold Kushner has pointed out, a mentor should be a little older than the protégé, but not by too much.2 The protégé has to be able to relate to the mentor casually, in a way that becomes more difficult as the age differential increases. Thus, first-year students are more likely to model themselves on fourth-year students than on senior professors. This underscores the fact that there is a mentoring role for everyone within the organization, at literally every level-professors for junior faculty; junior faculty for residents and advanced students; senior students for freshmen; even first-year students for applicants, college students, and high school students.

To be effective, mentorship has to be talked about within an organization often and at every level. Having a mentor/being a mentor has to be understood as a communal aspiration. The mentor-protégé connection can be one of the deepest and most satisfying human relationships outside of the direct family bond. Consider how the imagination of the general public has been captivated by the depth and richness of the student-professor relationship in Mitch Albom’s wildly popular book Tuesdays with Morrie. G. D. Koh has written that the bottom line is this: “Connecting students to somebody or something worthwhile is everybody’s business.” Faculty, students, and staff all need to appreciate the chance they have to actively cultivate protégés as one of the special gifts of the academic life. And faculty, in particular, need to seize the opportunity provided by mentoring to cultivate the dental school faculty of the future.

In the following pages, you’ll learn how NYUCD is integrating mentorship into the fabric of campus life. All of the initiatives described are designed to empower the members of our learning community and ultimately to benefit the institution and improve the quality of education at the Colleges of Dentistry and Nursing.

You’ll find some truly wonderful and thought-provoking articles and interviews on mentorship featuring Dr. John Sexton, President of NYU; Dr. Jeanne Sinkford, Associate Executive Director of ADEA and Director of the ADEA Center for Equity and Diversity; Dr. Peter Polverini, Dean of the University of Michigan School of Dentistry; Dr. Louis Terracio, NYUCD Associate Dean for Research; Dr. Barbara Krainovich-Miller, Assistant Dean for Academic Initiatives, and Dean Terry Fulmer, both of the College of Nursing; and Dr. Michael O’Connor, NYUCD’s Executive Associate Dean for Administration and Finance. There’s also a story about the first formal student-to-student peer-mentoring program at NYUCD.

Other articles in this issue of Global Health Nexus further underscore my sense of good fortune in arriving at NYUCD at this particular point in its history. In addition to the remarkable gift of the Herman Robert Fox Deanship, recent spectacular successes on the grants and philanthropy front also include a $6.2 million NIH grant awarded to Dr. Dan Malamud for HIV research; a $3.1 million NIH grant shared with the NYU School of Medicine and UMDNJ to study causes of temporomandibular disorder; a $1.2 million NIH grant to develop fracture-resistant restorations; and a grant from the National Institute of Aging to enable nursing and dentistry researchers to study elder mistreatment.

I hope you will enjoy all the articles in this issue. As they demonstrate, the good news keeps getting better.

1 Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam, 1997, p.45.
2 Kushner, Harold. When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough: The Search for a Life That Matters. New York: Simon Fireside, 2002, p. 169.