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ECU's first graduating class leaves gift to help future students, patients

July 02, 2015
Photo of East Carolina University School dental graduating class
First class: East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine's inaugural class pose for a photo during their May 9 graduation. The 50 students established an endowment fund to help support patient care and student learning.
Greenville, N.C. — When Dr. Philip Cochran first arrived at East Carolina University School to study dentistry in 2011, the School of Dental Medicine's building was still under construction.
"We had our classes — in an auditorium and laboratory — inside the medical school," he said. "It wasn't until a year and a half later that we packed up our things and moved over to our own building."
Being part of the dental school's first group of students — and becoming part of the school's early history, Dr. Cochran said, only made the 50 members of the Class of 2015 closer. And when they became the first graduating class of ECU School of Dental Medicine this spring, they sought to leave behind more than memories.
During the school's May 8 convocation, the class presented the school with the Inaugural Class Patient Care Endowment, a gift to support patient care and student learning.
The endowed gift from the 50 graduates, along with matching funds from the ECU Medical Health Sciences Foundation, currently stands at $33,000. It will help patients who need financial assistance to receive the care they need, while offering dental students learning experience through treating those patients.
The endowment was created after Dr. Cochran, Class of 2015 president, and Dr. Kelly Walsh, class vice president, learned about an ECU Medical Health Sciences Foundation matching grant in place.
"The Class of 2015 takes great pride in the palpable impact that the School of Dental Medicine is already having in North Carolina and we were inspired by our school's passion for service," said Dr. Walsh. "Our entire class embraced and established the Inaugural Class Patient Care Endowment Fund. I believe that this really expresses the commitment that the inaugural class has to the continued improvement of the oral health care in North Carolina."
Everyone of the class had to donate $250 to reach the goal.
"It turned out we raised a lot more than that," Dr. Cochran said. "We wanted to help bridge a gap between patient care and dental education."
Dr. Cochran said he enrolled at ECU because he believed in the school's mission and goals, particularly to help provide and enhance oral health services in underserved areas in North Carolina.

"They wanted to educate students who would go back to their home communities," said Dr. Cochran, who returned to his small hometown of Washington, North Carolina, to practice after graduation. "The school's commitment to service really meshed with my personal goals. We know there's only going to be first class, and we were privileged to be selected to be the face of the school for four years. This endowment was a way for us to say thank you and leave our mark on the dental school."

A component member of the University of North Carolina System, ECU began investigating the possibility of adding a public dental school in Greenville in 2005. Its School of Dental Medicine opened in 2011, welcoming its first class of about 50 students.

Initially, there were some reluctance reported about opening a new school in North Carolina. Some favored a plan to expand UNC at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry 's class size instead. A state-supported joint plan for education, however, enabled UNC-Chapel Hill to expand its research capabilities and increase class sizes, as well as fund construction of the ECU dental school building in Greenville.
In 2010, Dr. Ledyard E. Ross, an ECU alumnus and orthodontist, also gave a $4 million gift to the dental school for scholarships, faculty recruitment and retention and other academic enterprises.
State funds also support ECU's community service learning centers in rural and underserved areas of the state. The first ECU dental service learning center opened in Ahoskie, North Carolina, in August 2012. In February, the school opened its seventh community service learning center. Led by ECU dental faculty members, dental students spend eight-week clinical rotations at three centers during their fourth-year of dental school. Each center will see about 50 patients per day. The school plans to open eight to 10 of such centers for underserved areas in North Carolina.
"In so many ways, these graduates helped shape the future of our school, and this endowment is another part of their legacy," said Dr. Greg Chadwick, dean of the ECU School of Dental Medicine. "This first class was special and we look forward to greet them as our colleagues throughout the state of North Carolina. I don't think we had realized it as we were going along but when it came time to graduate, we knew them not only as students, but as people — their names, where they're from and where they're going — because we've been working together to build this school."
For more information or to contribute to the fund, contact Kristen Ward, director of development, ECU School of Dental Medicine at wardk@ecu.edu or 1-252-744-2239.