Holistic learning, holistic care

Zen sand garden at the mindfulness zone

Embedded counselor Nicole Pierce-Riswold, LPCC, knows how important intentionality is when it comes to mindfulness. After seeing how a mindfulness zone with de-stress tools impacted learners in a previous position, she approached her team to accomplish something similar at the School of Dentistry. “I love the idea of normalizing self care practices,” she explained. “When we see someone taking care of themselves, it prompts us to do the same. I believe strongly in community care, and if we encourage others to take care of themselves, we create the idea that we value one another and their wellbeing.”

Shannon Gilligan Wehr, senior student support associate, created the two spaces, one in the Retromolar Pad and the other in a pre-clinical adjacent area. “Knowing that dental school is stressful, we wanted to make mindfulness activities easily accessible to students, to encourage them to take some time to slow down and focus on being mindful,” she said. “The locations for the zones were chosen for their proximity to potentially stress-inducing activities: working on pre-clinical hand skills in the simulation lab, and studying in the quiet area of the RMP.”

succulent plants in mindfulness zone

Recognizing the value of diversity, culture and belonging, a group of students created TALK this year. Short for Together Attaining Linguistic Knowledge, the group is a space for students, faculty and staff to share language, culture, norms and traditions. “Each member of our team grew up in a multicultural household where multiple languages were spoken,” explained Antea Cooper, DDS ’25, “As members of TALK, we hope to improve our proficiency in languages commonly spoken by our non-English speaking patients. We aim to develop a deeper understanding of different cultures by organizing workshops in language acquisition, cross-cultural communication and healthcare interpretation. Our vision is to foster an inclusive and patient-centered environment where language barriers are minimized, improving the overall healthcare experience for our non-English speaking patients in the dental setting.”

muslim prayer space

A group of Muslim students worked with student affairs to create a space suitable for daily prayer. “Previously, Muslim students often faced the challenge of finding suitable locations to observe their daily prayers, often having to resort to secluded corners or inconspicuous areas, which unfortunately led to feelings of isolation and discomfort,” explained Abdirahim Askar, DDS ’25, president of the Muslim Student Dental Association. “However, with the introduction of this dedicated prayer area, they now have a safe haven where they can fulfill their religious obligations without any hindrance.”

The new space within the Retromolar Pad is a quiet, central but contained space with everything Muslim students need to complete their prayer rituals. “The establishment of the new prayer spaces has had a remarkable impact on the lives of Muslim students, fostering a strong sense of identity, community and acceptance within our school,” said Askar. “By recognizing and supporting the religious needs of all students, we have taken a significant step toward creating an environment where everyone can thrive academically, emotionally and spiritually.”

This story originally appeared in the 2023 edition of Dentistry Magazine.