Tedesco recognized for achievements in dental education

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | March 6, 2014

Lisa Tedesco, dean of Emory's Laney Graduate School and vice provost of academic affairs - graduate studies, has been recognized for her outstanding achievements as a dental educator by the American Dental Education Association's Gies (ADEAGies) Foundation.

The 2014 ADEAGies Awards honor individuals and organizations exemplifying dedication to the highest standards of vision, innovation and achievement in dental education, research and leadership.

As past president of ADEA, Tedesco was instrumental in redirecting the association's activities to address national academic issues, professional testing, evaluation and accreditation, and policy matters.

Tedesco, who is also a professor of behavioral sciences and health education in Rollins School of Public Health, will receive the award at the ADEA Annual Session and Exhibition on March 17 in San Antonio, Texas.

Before leaving, Tedesco spoke with Emory Report about how she became drawn to research around dentistry and oral health as a behavioral scientist:

At Emory, you're probably best known for your work within the Laney Graduate School and Rollins School of Public Health. How does your ADEA recognition fit into that picture?

I have been an interdisciplinary researcher and teacher nearly all of my academic life. My faculty appointments have been as a behavioral scientist in clinical departments, where a broad range of research and teaching are done, from basic science to clinical research. My research focus always seemed to include health promotion and disease prevention. So, when I came to Emory in 2006, a faculty home in Behavioral Sciences and Health Education in the Rollins School of Public Health seemed quite appropriate — the faculty and students are extraordinary and their research continues to make a positive impact across the globe.

Your career has included aspects of academic dentistry and health psychology — what drew you to those disciplines?

A number of happy accidents. Health psychology was emerging as a specialty area when I was finishing my doctoral program; I worked on research using social cognitive theory to understand human behavior and behavior change. When I was finishing my doctoral program I had the opportunity to use my research and writing skills on a large NIH [National Institutes of Health] contract in the School of Dental Medicine at the University at Buffalo. I was invited to join the faculty as a tenure track assistant professor, jointly appointed in a clinical department and in the Department of Behavioral Sciences — teaching, continuing my research and facilitating the research of others, and contributing to change and innovation in the clinical education programs in the School of Dental Medicine.  

What's been your research focus around dentistry?

I've worked in three or four different areas — behavioral interventions for the prevention of periodontal disease and the understanding and prevention of relapse for preventive behaviors; understanding the role of stress and coping in the prevention of oral disease; health disparities and clinical education models to address health disparities in dental education, particularly community-based clinical education; and health workforce diversity.

Just before coming to Emory, I was on sabbatical at the Columbia University Center for Community Health Partnerships and a visiting professor at the College of Dental Medicine. I worked with a very creative team on a project called “The Macy Foundation Study, Reconsidering Dental Education: Planning for the Future.” We were looking at the economics of funding the several missions in academic dentistry and how schools could sustain — and indeed advance — the teaching, research and clinical service missions.

The project had three specific objectives: develop new models of dental education that address the financial and educational challenges facing dental education; assess the economic and political feasibility of the more promising models; and convene a national conference of leaders and experts from stakeholder organizations to gain support for one or more of the models. I learned a great deal, needless to say, and, we had that national conference, right here at the Emory Conference Center in 2007.

Is it unusual for a non-dentist researcher to work among dentists?

Today, it's not so unusual for behavioral scientists to work in a range of areas in academic health centers. What was unusual 30-plus years ago was to be appointed as a behavioral scientist in a clinical department. I learned quickly how to demonstrate the value of my discipline in addressing the clinical problems and research questions at hand. And, while I am not a dentist, I still think I could play one on television.

What are your thoughts on receiving the Gies Award?

I am thrilled and humbled — it's such an honor to be recognized in this way. I've had the privilege of excellent mentors, who became collaborators, colleagues and friends. And, I'm so grateful for the colleagues that I stand with in all these collaborations over these many years. Awards like this give you a special view of your work, a view that re-dedicates you to one of the very important roles we all have in the academy — to pass on what we know to the next generation of leaders.