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Diversity in Leadership institute grad creates mentorship program

September 21, 2015

Dr. Mayberry
Detroit — When Dr. Melanie E. Mayberry began attending local dental meetings, she noticed that she was the only African-American, if not the only woman, in the room.

"I'm thinking to myself, why am I the only one?" she said. "Did I not get the memo?"

That experience brought home one of two things she would often hear: There's a lack of diversity among health care providers.

"I was also hearing that if we could just expose our youth early to the health care profession, there's a better chance they will choose to become a dentist, a doctor, a nurse," said Dr. Mayberry, clinical associate professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry.

As a possible solution, in 2008, without funding and using simply her free time, Dr. Mayberry launched Urban Impressions, A Youth Initiative, a mentorship program that exposes a group of local seventh and eighth graders to dentistry and other health care professions.

The program was her project as a 2008 graduate of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership. She's mentored about 130 Detroit middle-schoolers since the launch, and it's still going strong.

"It's about shaping and exposing students who may not be thinking about a career in health care," she said.

She's speaking from experience.

Born and raised in Detroit, Dr. Mayberry's father was a dentist. However, after high school, Dr. Mayberry sought to become a veterinarian and initially was a pre-vet major.

"I had a counselor who took an interest in me and said, 'You should broaden your horizon. Why don't you try a biology major so if you change your mind about vet school, you can still consider dental or medical school,'" Dr. Mayberry said. "I know the different programs and experiences I was exposed to, including having a dentist as a dad, helped shaped where I am today."

Dr. Mayberry received her dental degree from Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry in 1994. After her residency, she worked in a community health clinic in Sauginaw, Michigan. After her father died, she moved back to Detroit, joined UDM as a full-time faculty member and reopened her father's practice. She now practices part-time.

"I'm in Detroit and I wasn't seeing much ethnic/racial diversity in academia and the various dental meetings I attended," she said.

This led her to participating in the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership program.

"It is such a significant program," she said. "I would not have started my mentoring program if it wasn't for it. It forced me to put my ideas on paper, share them and just do it."

Dr. Mayberry reached out to about 10 middle schools in the city.

"I called principals, literally whoever picked up the phone, and told them about my program," she said. "About three to four schools were really enthusiastic."

When all was said and done, she took in a group of seventh graders from Spain Elementary, a Detroit public school, which is located near the dental school. A guidance counselor at Spain selects about 20-24 kids to join Urban Impressions. The program involves her visiting the students in school to share her story with them.

"I tell them that I grew up here and I went to high school here, the same school many of them will be attending," she said. "It's really about creating a connection with them." The students also visit UDM where they can interact with dental students and other dental faculty.

"We let them engage with different dental materials," Dr. Mayberry said. The students also visit various clinics within the dental school, including a pediatric clinic to see dental students treating patients. At another point, she'd make another visit to the students' school and bring another health professional to speak to the students.

The group will remain in the two-year program until they graduate from eighth grade, where they receive a certificate acknowledging their participation in the program. The new cohort will be new seventh graders.

The program is now in its fourth cohort.

"Our first group is now in college," she said.While the program is meeting a need following where the first set of students and those that followed isn't easy and can be time consuming, long-term follow-up is a challenge.

"I'd love to stay in touch with them, see what they are doing now and see what they ultimately chose to study," Dr. Mayberry said. "If I choose to expand the program, I'd like to find a way to do that."

Nonetheless, even if many of the programs' students don't choose a career in health care, Dr. Mayberry said the program is worth the time and effort.

"I know exposure matters," she said. "These kids' minds are like fertile soil. And my job is to plant a seed. I just want to provide that little bit of spark."

For more information on the Institute for Diversity in Leadership, click here.