NYU is home to a number of exceptional preparation programs for high school students looking to boost their college readiness and gain valuable skills that set them apart from their peers. The NYU Dentistry Saturday Academy is a selective opportunity for high school students to experience the rigor and beauty of dentistry while getting a feel for dental training or a career in health care.
The Saturday Academy meets for seven sessions during the fall semester and aims to increase diversity in health-care professions like dentistry by introducing underrepresented high school students to the profession. “We hope to reduce a few barriers on the long path to dental school, and provide access to resources and information that might otherwise go untapped for many students,” says Dr. Cheryline Pezzullo. “It’s imperative that more students of color are admitted into health professional schools. Then we can actually tackle disparities like systemic racism and biases in our education and health care.” Dr. Pezzullo, along with Dr. Lorel E. Burns, created the program back in 2012.
In a field like dentistry, it’s not enough to learn the lingo and study pictures of mouths. To simulate the range of skills required in the dental field, the Saturday Academy at NYU Dentistry also offers a number of hands-on projects and challenges.
“The Saturday Academy team did an incredible job planning engaging activities. It’s hard to choose a favorite!” says rising high school senior Trinity Williams, who participated in the program in the fall of 2020. Ultimately, creating molds of bite impressions was the project that stole her heart. “We were warned that bite impressions are one of the most difficult tasks in dental training. You need to be extremely meticulous,” she explains. “But I couldn’t wait for the challenge! Attempting the work of an actual dentist was an unforgettably fascinating experience.”
Another simulation project on fake teeth also gives students the chance to understand a procedure many have had done in their own mouths—cavity restorations. Additionally, a new activity this year let students carve bars of soap into the shape of teeth. “It’s great for our students to explore how dentistry is an art in addition to a science,” Dr. Burns says.
Dentistry-specific activities are undeniably a big part of the Saturday Academy. But building the skills that help high schoolers find success as they apply for college is another key focus. “While it is our ultimate goal to recruit more underrepresented minorities into the dental profession, we also recognize the immediate needs of our target audience—high school students,” Dr. Burns explains. “It was important to us to create a program that would equip them with knowledge and skills they could use in the immediate future.” For example, throughout the program, students learn about standardized testing, financial aid, and the Common Application. They also participate in mock interviews and workshop their résumés and personal statements.
For Trinity, the importance of networking was a powerful lesson as well. “From the beginning, the team established themselves as a group of people we are able to go to from now on for advice and support,” she says. “I learned the importance of staying vocal and not being afraid to reach out as we continue our academic journeys.” For Dr. Burns and Dr. Pezzullo, this network is a source of pride. “We prioritize having a mentorship team who is reflective of the population of high school students we aim to serve,” Dr. Burns says.
A Real Impact
Dr. Pezzullo also credits mentorship with her own success in the field. And she and Dr. Burns have undoubtedly found a way to pay that success forward. To date, the program has introduced 227 high school students to the field of dentistry. Additionally, several alumni from the early years received dental school admission. “We want students to see dentistry as a truly viable career option and use us as mentors to help them along their entire dental journey, long after they graduate from the program,” Dr. Pezzullo explains.
“Every high school student should consider applying for a program with NYU,” says Trinity. She now plans to pursue dentistry herself when she graduates from high school. “I finished Saturday Academy feeling like I had another family. Being surrounded by an incredible, diverse group of high school students gave me hope for a better future—the experience is something that I will hold close to me forever.”
How to Apply
Applications for Saturday Academy 2021 are now open and the deadline is July 16.
The Saturday Academy is open to all students who will be in high school in fall 2021. Applicants must submit an online application, including a 250-word essay, and provide a high school transcript and reference. The program, both virtual and in person, is completely free for those admitted.