Thirty-six students from the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine graduated from the International Student Program on Dec. 9. Originally from 18 countries, each student came to the dental school’s ISP program in their own country aspiring to receive the training and certification to become licensed dentists in the United States.

As the sixth graduating ISP class, Dean Denise Kassebaum, DDS, MS, believes the addition of the ISP in the dental school provides an enriching cultural experience. “The presence of our ISP classes furthers our understanding of new places and cultures. I hope the educational experience our ISP students receive here enriches their lives as much as they enrich our School of Dental Medicine.”

Provost Roderick Nairn, PhD, served as the commencement speaker. Born and raised in Scotland and educated in England before continuing his training in the United States, Nairn was able to connect with the graduates as an “international” student.

“I know that as international students each of you has done ‘double duty,'” he said. “While other dental students have focused on their challenging coursework, you’ve done that and overcame cultural and other obstacles. You’ve put your lives on hold for two years to earn this American degree, one you are receiving at a moment in history where your talents, energy, passion and commitment are needed more than ever.”

The commencement acknowledges the academic accomplishments and personal sacrifices made by the students to achieve their goals. The ISP program is an extremely competitive, highly rigorous 24-month program and many students had to leave family behind to complete their education at CU. The commencement was streamed to the Internet for viewing by family members around the world.

Victoria Saniukovich’s graduation from the program was watched by her sister in Belarus as Victoria’s son chatted with her via iPad Facetime during the ceremony. Her sister became overwhelmed with emotion when she saw Victoria receive her diploma.

ISP Director Elizabeth Towne-Wilson, DDS, and ISP faculty member Ron Brown, DDS, served as the honorary faculty who placed the academic hoods for the graduates. Towne-Wilson believes strongly in the skills of the ISP graduates and their ability to served U.S. patient needs. “We’re helping them become excellent, outstanding dentists. My wish for these graduates is that they’re successful, happy, productive and that they give back.”

There are thousands of regions in the United States with a shortage of dentists.

In her address to the graduating class, Dean Kassebaum echoed the need for dental providers: “As capable professionals, you are entering the dental profession at a time when both your skills and compassion will be much in demand.”

Ivo Ivanov Pumpalov, originally from Sofia, Bulgaria, offered remarks as Class President of the Class of 2011. The gratitude from the ISP students toward the faculty was a theme in his address. “The faculty has made a very difficult commitment to teach ‘an old dog a new trick.’ It requires a lot of love, patience, belief and passion,” Pumpalov said. “All of our teachers exhibited these qualities. Changing habits and accommodating existing concepts is much harder than educating new students. Just saying ‘thank you’ does not express the gratitude we have for our dedicated faculty.”

In addition to learning new procedures and concepts, these students had to develop skills in American English understanding and expressions.

ISP students represented the following countries: Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Brazil, China, Colombia, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Libya, Nigeria, Philippines, Romania and Sudan.

(Photo caption: Among the 36 graduates of the ISP on Dec. 9 were, from left, Farnoosh Abbasi, Khaldoon Abid, Sheila Angela Acuat Aguillana and Ali B. Albeer.)