Not every student has ready access to professional mentors, guidance on scholarship opportunities, or the networks provided by those who have paved the way before them. Without these advantages, which some may take for granted, the path to success is much harder.
Christine L. Tierney (’86 DMD) established an endowed fellowship program to help these students because she was once one of them.
Tierney grew up in a large family where the most advanced degree was an associate’s in dairy science. Her mother insisted her children get the education she never received so they could support themselves.
It was through an after-school job as a dental assistant in Manchester, Conn., that Tierney first considered a career in the field of dentistry. Initially, her plans were to complete an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, never dreaming that being a dentist was within her reach.
“I didn’t have a mentor or professional guidance and really wasn’t sure that I could get through dental school even though I always did well,” she said. “The demands of dental school are rigorous enough even if you have good mentors. When you put financial pressures on top of that—it’s a lot of work.”
Tierney found that, when she enrolled at the UConn School of Dental Medicine, there were ample support programs in place for students like her. She found a general atmosphere of collaboration rather than competition there. “We were treated very well at UConn,” said Tierney. “They worked hard to make sure every student succeeded and I’ve always been grateful for the experience.”
The School of Dental Medicine also strongly emphasizes community service, requiring students to participate in clinics for disadvantaged populations. This value was one Tierney carried with her after graduation. She works for an after-school educational program for at-risk children in her community, volunteers at the Mission of Mercy, an annual two-day free clinic organized by the Connecticut Foundation for Dental Outreach, and serves on committees for several organizations.
To further her goal of supporting those who lack professional networks and guidance, Tierney created Women of Wisdom, a mentorship program for women in dentistry. It spread through word-of-mouth and is now part of the Connecticut State Dental Association (CSDA) Annual Meeting. “We became a support system for the younger women dentists helping to guide them through the challenges of practice,” she said.
“Dentistry is a great profession. It was ranked No. 1 out of 100 for Best Jobs by [U.S. News and World Report] this year. It offers a lot of flexibility, especially for women, and I hope more women will consider the field,” said Tierney. “You can do things you couldn’t do before with the technology that’s available now. You have opportunities to improve people’s quality of life.”
Tierney, who practices in Greenwich, Conn., is active in organized dentistry. She is on both the Continuing Education and Membership Councils for the CSDA, is a member of the ADA, AGD, the Seattle Study Club and the past president of the Greenwich Dental Society.
When Tierney was approached to support the dental school, she readily agreed, noting that UConn customized a plan to make it easy. Tierney encourages others in the field to help pave the way for future practitioners. “You need to step up and give to something that’s meaningful to you.”