2013 Mentor of the Year

Philips Sonicare and RDH magazine honor University of Michigan's Anne Gwozdek

by CATHY HESTER SECKMAN, RDH

Philips Sonicare and RDH magazine recently announced the 2013 Mentor of the Year -- Anne Gwozdek, RDH, BA, MA, of Dexter, Mich.

"Getting into dental hygiene was a blessing," says the 2013 Mentor of the Year. "I always liked the sciences and I was interested in teaching, so I was stuck at a crossroad when I started researching colleges."

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She discovered a dental hygiene certificate program at the University of Michigan, decided it was a good fit, applied, and was accepted in 1971.

"Who would have guessed that years later I would be blending both career options? In 2001, I was offered the opportunity to join the University of Michigan (U-M) clinical dental hygiene faculty a half day a week. When I had that chance to act on my lifelong interest in teaching, I realized, ‘I really, really like this!'"

From the time she entered her first dental hygiene classroom as a student, Anne's career trajectory has been pointed steadily upward. She met some graduate students from Switzerland who were part of the University of Michigan's periodontal specialty program. They needed American hygienists to join them in practice in Switzerland, since the country didn't have a dental hygiene program in 1973, so Anne and several of her fellow classmates decided to take advantage of the opportunity after graduation.

"We lived together in Bern, a German area, so we took German lessons, but many of the people we met spoke English. For a single person with no responsibilities, it was a dream come true. We were able to travel throughout Europe on our time off."

Though Anne loved the experience, she was ready to come home after a year.

"I wanted to be with family and friends again, and I had the urge to get started with a stateside career. So I came back to my home area and worked 16 years in a general practice in Dearborn, Mich."

In 1979, she married her husband, Joe, an air traffic systems specialist for the Federal Aviation Administration and an avid pilot. For years the couple owned a small plane and enjoyed day and weekend trips.

"After about a dozen years as a hygienist, I started to get a bug. For my own satisfaction, and for the sake of career opportunities, I started looking at degree completion programs."

But she didn't want to give up her full-time job, and the program at the University of Michigan offered only on-campus weekday classes. So instead of continuing with hygiene education, Anne decided to indulge a desire to write. She entered Madonna University in nearby Livonia to major in journalism and public relations. The evening classes offered there fit into her busy life, and she earned a bachelor's degree in 1992.

Her husband, she says, "has supported all my professional adventures from the beginning. Whether it was my time at work, at professional meetings, or at school, he supported and encouraged me. You don't do all of this without backing from your family."

While she was earning her degree and working full-time, Anne was also active at the local and state levels of the Michigan Dental Hygienists' Association (MDHA). When the editor of the MDHA Bulletin stepped down, Anne saw an opportunity to use her newly acquired journalism skills. She worked at the helm of the Bulletin for six years, during which time it was recognized at the state level for consistent excellence.

Anne later moved to a general practice in Canton, Mich., and spent the rest of her clinical career there.

"I've been fortunate," she realizes, "to work in two great offices."

From 1998 to 2001, Anne served as president-elect, president, and immediate past president of the MDHA. During those years, there were a number of important legislative initiatives, including placing two additional dental hygienists on the Michigan Board of Dentistry and the introduction of pain-management bills allowing the dental hygienist to deliver local anesthesia and nitrous oxide.

"That was a big part of my life," she recalls, "and when it was finished, I thought, ‘What now?'"

She was still happy working in private practice, but when the chance came to join the U-M faculty as a part-time clinical instructor in 2001, she jumped at it. Anne enjoyed her combined career in private practice and education, but knew if she wanted to pursue teaching further, she would need a master's degree.

"I was very interested in U-M's on-campus Master of Science in Dental Hygiene (MSDH) program; however, once again I ran into the issue of it not meeting my scheduling needs."

Anne and her own mentor, Wendy Kerschbaum, then director of dental hygiene, started talking about the future of the U-M dental hygiene program.

"Wendy said that with the explosion of technology, an educational master's degree with that focus would be very valuable."

Facing the same question -- how do I work full-time and still go to school? -- Anne found an online master's program in educational media and technology at nearby Eastern Michigan University.

"It fit my life. I took one or two classes at a time for several years, and it was so interesting. It's all about being open to opportunities."

It was time to talk to her program director again.

"I have to give Wendy credit," Anne says. "She's truly a remarkable mentor. She can always see what you may not see in yourself, and was able to put together my skills and interests with what was needed for the dental hygiene program at U-M."

Kerschbaum wanted to explore an online delivery option for their dental hygiene degree completion program.

Anne recalls, "We needed more bachelor's degree hygienists, but not many opportunities existed for the majority of hygienists to obtain that degree. The timing was good to move forward. I was wrapping up my master's, and there was a blend of good karma. Wendy asked me to lead the project."

Anne confesses to some hesitation about accepting.

"You don't know what you don't know, but I said yes, and it was awesome."

By 2006, she had left clinical practice and was focusing on the development of the online program.

"Our faculty team worked hard for 18 months to look at best practices and evidence in education, and develop curriculum. That planning was so very valuable, and we credit it with helping us roll out a top-rate program from the onset. We were so pleased that our decisions had been good ones, and we had a rock-solid program from day one."

Except for a two-day on-campus orientation, the e-learning degree completion program is all online and asynchronous. To date, U-M has graduated four cohorts, an average of 10 hygienists a year. Thirty-nine percent, Anne says, are already teaching clinically.

"There's a great need for educators now because of retiring baby boomer instructors."

U-M has also recently launched an online delivery option for its MSDH program that focuses on dental hygiene education. Anne has been extremely involved in this as well.

In the course of finishing her master's degree and running the degree completion program, Anne has published many research-based articles, and some features in the ADHA magazine, Access.

In reflecting on what receiving the 2013 Mentor of the Year Award means to her, Anne immediately says she has been fortunate to have so many mentors in her own life. In the early years of her career, many were those in leadership positions in MDHA and ADHA.

"They offered me opportunities to take on a responsibility or challenge, but were always there to guide me along the way."

Moving into the academic arena, Anne found this to be the case as well.

"These mentors remain my lifelong friends and are absolutely invaluable. We continue to support one another and share our successes and challenges."

Anne wanted to make this same type of impact on others.

"This is why receiving this award is so meaningful. To be nominated by students and colleagues leaves me humbled and very grateful. It affirms that I have actually been able to support and encourage the next generation of dental hygiene professionals by ‘paying it forward.' Or, as we at U-M say, ‘hail it forward.'"

Though her husband has retired, Anne is so immersed in her work that she has not considered the possibility for herself.

"Joe is always saying, ‘You need to get out and have more fun, Anne.' Then in his next breath he follows up with, ‘Oh, that's right, you are having fun!'"

For now, she's content to work hard, fly with Joe, and enjoy their extended family of siblings, nieces, and nephews. She also spends quality time with a group of gym buddies.

Summing up her career so far, Anne says, "The profession of dental hygiene has been a gift to me. So much of this is an extension of loving what you do and sharing this love with others. I have been truly blessed." RDH

CATHY HESTER SECKMAN, RDH, has written on dental topics for 26 years. She speaks on pediatric issues, and works clinically in a pediatric practice. She is also an indexer and a novelist.


Comments from nominators

When Elizabeth Easter saw a Mentor of the Year nomination form, she immediately thought of her former teacher and current colleague. She talked to friends, and in the end, four hygienists sent nominations.

"It's an honor," says Anne. "Having four persons from all different aspects of professional involvement come together to do this was so heartwarming."

Elizabeth Easter, BSDH, of Detroit, who also works at U-M, credits Anne with getting her involved in, and serving as president of, the Student American Dental Hygienists' Association (SADHA).

"Anne guided me every step of the way," she recalls. "She answered questions, helped me to network with other schools, and advised me on how to encourage student involvement. With her help, our class had over 90% membership."

When SADHA sponsored a retirement luncheon for Wendy Kerschbaum last year, Anne was ready to help.

"Mrs. Gwozdek took all the necessary steps to make sure we had everything we needed. She helped with getting us additional funding, establishing a location, and encouraging student involvement. She goes out of her way to help others to the best of her ability."

Easter is now involved in MDHA and ADHA, and credits Anne with shaping her interest in her professional organizations.

Karen Essell, BSDH, of Ann Arbor, Mich., who works in clinical research at U-M, has benefited from Anne's mentorship.

"She is determined to provide each student with a meaningful experience. She inspired me to explore the many facets of dental hygiene, including the development of a Head Start fluoride varnish program. This has allowed me to mentor students in a public health environment."

She also credits Anne with connecting her to the clinical research program at U-M.

"She introduced me to a program she felt would fit my skill set. She truly believes there is always a need to be open to new opportunities and new ways to apply your education."

Mary Layher, BSDH, of Ann Arbor cherishes a deep friendship with Anne that she calls "a sisterhood, really."

"Anne is a beautiful person who makes you aspire to be like her, with her genuine giving spirit. She is so kind and generous to a fault, and I used to kid her about her ‘Dale Carnegie' way of speaking. Her skills in working with groups are remarkable. When she led MDHA as president, everyone adored her for her kind, nonjudgmental sharing of the facts to move the organization to success. It made us all feel so powerful and cohesive as a group."

During their years as MDHA and ADHA officers and delegates, Layher benefited from Anne's ability to network and collaborate with fellow workers.

"I respect and aspire to Anne's exceptional way of relating and getting along with others. She continually puts a positive spin on any situation while creating a deeper understanding of the issues. My professional and personal lives have been significantly enriched by Anne's inspiration and capable mentoring."

Katherine Yee, BSDH, of Troy, Mich., also a U-M instructor, says Anne's mentoring has given her the confidence to cultivate her own career opportunities.

"She teaches by example and encourages others to ‘be the example.'"

She reports that Anne instills confidence by motivating students to push through limits and reach their greatest potential.

"Whenever I have a problem or a difficult decision, I always think, ‘What would Anne do?' She always has good suggestions that make you think you can overcome anything. Anne is the most thoughtful and caring person I know."

A trademark of Anne's, Yee says, is that she always has a camera ready to capture a student or instructor doing something great.

"She is on the lookout to find the moment in time to take the perfect picture to share with websites or publications to promote the good deeds of those around her.

"I am grateful that she challenges me," Yee continues, "because she inspired me to become a critical thinker. She is the most positive and supportive mentor I have ever had. She taught me to seize opportunities and learn from each one. I credit Anne with seeing in m

In addition to the selection of Anne Gwozdek, RDH, as the 2013 Mentor of the Year, Philips Sonicare and RDH magazine also recognize two dental hygienists as Mentors of Distinction.

Patti DiGangi, RDH: The Illinois hygienist was nominated by Pat Pine, RDH, of Fountain Hills, Ariz. Pine said DiGangi has "always been one step above the rest of dentistry. She is a forward thinker and doesn't look back." Pine praised DiGangi's willingness to volunteer for many projects, saying, "She mentors students as well as seasoned hygienists to be the best they can be. Patti speaks across the country, spreading the word on new advancements, and innovative products in dentistry; she's on the cutting edge. Ask anyone. Patti is willing to do anything for anyone at a moment's notice -- she is there. Patti thinks beyond her own needs to meet the needs of other hygienists." Pine added, "I get crazy creative and sometimes get myself in a situation I am not sure of; I have a plan, but don't really know how to execute it. Well, I can call Patti any time day or night, and she will mentor me through the situation. Patti won't promise to solve all problems, but she will lead me to discover the answers on my own. I don't believe it is easy to mentor many professionals. She is a great person, friend, colleague and leader in the dental community. She sets the standards high; we need more people like her to look up to."

Andy Codding, RDH: Four dental hygienists nominated Codding, who is a dental hygienist in Georgia. All of the nominations cited Codding's work with AndyFutureRDH.com, which has mentored dental hygiene students and recent graduates for more than a decade. The website also provides services aiding students with national board exams. Britni Brown of Anchorage, Alaska, said Codding "is a working dental hygienist who helps mentor students and helps them find jobs. He is fast to respond to dental questions, and he helps with resumes." Rebecca Parker of Melbourne, Fla., added, "Andy is known all around the United States for his hard work and dedication to helping dental hygiene students pass their national board. He has a few websites that are extremely informative for not only the board, but also helping students get a job as a hygienist once they have graduated and passed all of the examinations." Another one of his nominations was submitted by a former patient who became inspired to be a dental hygienists too. Ashley Bunch of Calhoun, Ga., said, "Andy has been cleaning my teeth since I was 12 years old. He always made me feel comfortable in his chair. He made my hygiene appointments so pleasant that I decided I wanted to be a part of this great profession! Andy mentored me all through dental hygiene school with tips and pointers on making it through. Since my recent graduation, Andy has continued to mentor me. He has helped me improve my resume and given me great pointers for job hunting and what it's like in real offices. I give Andy a lot of the credit for my success so far."

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