A commitment to community distinguishes Dr. Marisa Watanabe, 2022 Dugoni Faculty Award recipient

December 21, 2022

Dr. Marisa Watanabe, associate dean for community partnerships and access to care at Western University of Health Sciences’ College of Dental Medicine has received the California Dental Association Foundation’s Dr. Arthur A. Dugoni Faculty Award for 2022.

The late Dr. Arthur A. Dugoni’s lifetime of service, leadership and achievement is the inspiration for this distinguished honor. The award acknowledges and supports eligible faculty affiliated with the state’s dental schools for their exceptional leadership, innovation, collaboration, compassion, philanthropic spirit and integrity in dental education. Recipients of the award are nominated by CDA members, including students, and California dental school faculty.

Commitment to service and community

Watanabe’s colleagues shared that she is known for thoughtfully developing each course she teaches, incorporating student-driven improvements with each iteration. One recent innovation Watanabe led in the Community Service Learning course series involved students partnering with nonprofit organizations to create oral health education materials, which resulted in increased outreach into the community, with the added effect of boosting student confidence within the public health sphere.

“Dr. Watanabe’s dedication to the community is unparalleled,” notes her colleague, Dr. Krystle Rapisura. From the start of her career, Watanabe has been heavily involved in community outreach. In 2011, she helped start the first WesternU CDM school-based oral health center in LA County that has since grown into a network spanning LA County, introducing students to community dentistry while increasing their clinical experiences. Her participation in Special Olympics includes being a Global Clinical Advisor for Special Smiles to develop and coordinate opportunities for WesternU students, in which students enthusiastically participate.

Education enriched by compassion

Watanabe is known for her commitment to enhancing dental students’ education beyond the curriculum. She invites guest lecturers such as dental directors and oral health policymakers to engage students to cultivate prospective employer and mentor relationships. She has established affiliations with multiple sites, including Pomona Valley Regional Center and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, to ensure dental students have broad experiences outside of the classroom and clinic to ignite and nurture a passion for underserved populations and community dentistry.

Not only does Watanabe strive to involve her students in community outreach, but she also influences them to continue their involvement in the communities where they live and work after dental school. As an advisor to the AADPH Student Club, she is already laying down the foundation for student members to take the lead in their passions as they create their own goals to serve the community.

Rapisura adds that in her role Watanabe does not simply advise, “She listens and provides resources that allow for successful accomplishment of set goals. Dr. Watanabe constantly makes herself available to her students and like a friend, she cheers them on and offers an ear to listen as well as words of encouragement.”

The Foundation will accept nominations for the 2023 Dugoni Faculty Award beginning Jan. 1. Awardees will be notified in November 2023. See nomination guidelines or learn more about the award and see a list of past recipients.

The CDA Foundation offers financial support to dental professionals and community-based organizations statewide that provide dental care to underserved communities. Visit the Foundation website to learn more about other grants, awards and programs.

Updated on January 4, 2023 to reflect Dr. Watanabe’s professional title.


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