Riggs receives President's Award for Outstanding Service

Sheila Riggs, DDS, MS, DMSc

Sheila Riggs, DDS, MS, DMSc, is a recipient of the 2021 President’s Award for Outstanding Service, President Joan Gabel announced in April.

The University of Minnesota President's Award for Outstanding Service was established in 1997 to recognize faculty and staff who have provided exceptional service to the University, its schools, colleges, departments and service units. Such service must have gone well beyond the regular duties of a faculty or staff member, and demonstrate unusual commitment to the University community.

Riggs received the award for her tireless efforts to combat discrepancies in oral health care at the University of Minnesota and beyond.

“In my estimation, Dr. Riggs’s service on behalf of the University of Minnesota is beyond outstanding,” said Interim Dean Keith Mays when he nominated Riggs for the award. “Her leadership in efforts to address oral health disparities in a variety of settings have profoundly impacted not only the University community, but also the people of Minnesota.”

Riggs is an associate professor and the chair of the department of primary dental care at the School of Dentistry, having worked at the University since 2009. She oversees the school’s Outreach division, which partners with oral health community providers throughout Minnesota and South Dakota to allow students to serve patients who might not otherwise have access to care. She’s also a member of health care committees like the Minnesota Department of Human Services Dental Services Advisory Committee, the Minnesota Department of Health’s Medical Education and Research Cost Grant Program, and the State of Minnesota’s Legislative Commission on Health Care Access Workforce Shortage Working Group.

Recently, she formed a groundbreaking coalition of safety net dental providers called Get to Yes, which is transforming the way Minnesota sees oral health care under her leadership.

Kelly Mellberg, director of state relations for the University of Minnesota, reflected on Riggs’s work on Get to Yes. “With Dr. Riggs at the helm, we have built an environment of collaboration and trust,” she said. “It has been a truly remarkable feat that a group of stakeholders who could not agree on anything for over ten years has created a white paper that has the approval of all safety net providers and DHS.

Diana Vance Bryan, chair of the Board of Directors of Hennepin Healthcare System, shared her experience working with Riggs on that board, as well as in the Women’s Health Leadership Trust and the Women Business Leaders of the U.S. Healthcare Industry Foundation.

“Over the years, I have witnessed first-hand Dr. Riggs’s extraordinary commitment to the community,” she said. “She willingly pitches in and assumes leadership roles.”

For Riggs, the award is confirmation that she’s making real, impactful change.

“When I received the letter from President Gabel, what mattered to me most was that my colleagues on these initiatives valued my contributions,” she said. “One of my mantras is ‘nothing just happens.’ Change happens when a coalition of the willing comes together and does the hard work to reach consensus, and then takes collective action for the benefit of the community.”

Riggs and other recipients will be honored at the virtual Board of Regents meeting in May, with an in-person ceremony tentatively planned for the fall.