Dr. Frank Roberts, who has directed the School of Dentistry’s Regional Initiatives in Dental Education (RIDE) program since 2014, has been named Associate Dean for Regional Affairs, Dean Gary Chiodo has announced. The appointment was approved by the UW Board of Regents at their meeting in May.
In his new post, Dr. Roberts oversees the school’s educational outreach to the WWAMI region (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho), which is also served by the School of Medicine. He will also help lead the dental school’s efforts to expand access for developmentally and other disabled patients in rural Washington, in which RIDE’s community clinical sites will play a major role.
Following Dean Chiodo’s vision for expanding the scope of Regional Affairs, Dr. Roberts will also work closely with two key School of Dentistry entities: the Office of Educational Partnerships and Diversity (OEPD) and the Timothy A. DeRouen Center for Global Oral Health.
OEPD, directed by Dr. Bea Gandara, pursues a community-oriented mission to support teaching and learning initiatives that promote culturally appropriate improvements in oral health care access and reductions in oral health disparities. “I’m looking forward to collaborating with OEPD as they create new regional community partnerships and to support the admissions pipeline for underrepresented students,” Dr. Roberts said.
The DeRouen Center, directed by Dr. Ana Lucia Seminario, is the school’s primary vehicle to facilitate international collaborations in oral health research and education. “The DeRouen Center already does superb work, and I see great potential for us to take advantage of our strengths in securing educational grants to create research and training capacities in low- and middle-income countries. This opportunity will enrich the dental education of our students as they will have a more interprofessional knowledge of global oral health issues,” he said. “The DeRouen Center will also continue to help us expand our reach to the refugee community in Washington.”
Dr. Roberts, who is also interim chair of the school’s Department of Periodontics, has been a key member of the RIDE faculty since the program’s inception in 2007. RIDE was designed to channel more dentists into practice in rural and/or underserved areas of Washington, mostly east of the Cascades. To date, nearly 80 percent of its graduates have gone into practice in these areas, a rate well above the national average for U.S. dental schools.
Eight students enter the RIDE program each year. They spend their first year, including a four-week community clinical rotation, at the RIDE hub on the Eastern Washington University campus in Spokane Their second and third years are spent with their full class in Seattle. In their fourth year, they spend winter and spring quarters in an Eastern Washington community rotation, which is a key feature of the program. The rotations, at clinics that serve a high proportion of children and low-income adults, give the students an extended exposure to community dentistry and experience in local leadership. The students perform a full range of dental procedures under the supervision of faculty preceptors.
In 2017, the American Dental Education Association bestowed the William J. Gies Award for Vision by an Academic Dental Institution, its highest honor, on RIDE. The program has also drawn interest from Montana about an expansion into that state.
“Dr. Roberts, with his wealth of experience and proven leadership, is the ideal candidate to fill this post,” said Dean Chiodo. “He has consistently shown the abilities needed to lead RIDE’s continued development, and he will help spur critical thinking around regional affairs, program and relationship building, and innovation as a member of our executive leadership team. We are fortunate to have such a highly qualified faculty member in this critical role.”
Dr. Roberts joined the UW Department of Periodontics as assistant professor in 1996. Previously, he worked as a researcher and teaching assistant at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) dental school and in the university’s Department of Microbiology.
He graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina and holds a DDS with honors from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in molecular cell biology from UAB, along with a certificate in periodontics.
Dr. Roberts has been Chief of Periodontics at the Seattle Veterans Administration Medical Center since 1997 and has also represented the School of Dentistry on the UW Medicine curriculum committee in all aspects of overlapping course work. An active researcher, he has pursued studies including the molecular mechanisms of chronic inflammatory disease progression, the bacterial development of periodontitis, and biology and imaging of dental implants.
He has played a key role in the UW School of Dentistry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, delivering free webinars on clinical protocols for the state’s practicing dentists. The webinars have also been circulated nationally.
A diplomate of the American Board of Periodontology, he has received the American Academy of Periodontology Tarrson Award for Outstanding Teaching and the Bruce R. Rothwell Distinguished Teaching Award, the School of Dentistry’s highest teaching honor.