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Dental alumni grab seats

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Dental alumni grab seats

Otago dental alumni have put their money where it counts, buying lecture theatre seats to support the school’s redevelopment project.

Do you remember the seat you used to like to sit in while attending lectures at the University of Otago?

Well it seems the Faculty of Dentistry's alumni certainly can. They have been snapping up the opportunity to buy the 126 seats of the Blue Lecture Theatre as part of a fundraising campaign run in association with the New Zealand Dental Association (NZDA) and launched at the 2016 NZDA Annual Conference in Wellington.

Faculty Dean Professor Paul Brunton says it was an idea he put forward after having used it successfully while fundraising for a postgraduate centre in a dental school in the UK.

"We're refurbishing the Blue Lecture Theatre as part of our redevelopment project here, so I suggested the idea of selling the seats here."

It was an idea the NZDA was keen to support, going as far as producing an app so people could go online and choose their seat, as CEO David Crum explains.

"This is similar to that of booking an airline seat and was promoted at the conference so that dentists could book – purchase naming rights – to a particular seat and ‘sit’ among classmates.

"So, yes we have the usual ‘front row’ and the usual ‘back row’ personalities now with their named seats. They all sold – $500 times 126 seats as this year’s contribution towards the new Dental School."

During the conference sessions there was a banner running across the screen updating how many seats had gone, which generated a lot of interest, says Brunton.

"The NZDA produced the app for no cost and did the marketing for no cost so, basically, all the money will come to us to use as we wish, which is fantastic.

"This is the only dental school in the country. Most of the dentists in New Zealand went through this building at some point and so they are very, very proud of it and very loyal."

Crum voices similar sentiments explaining that giving back to the school is an easy decision for many colleagues, and that the rebuild is an exciting and long-awaited project.

"I believe that advancement in oral health care, dentistry and community well-being, rely heavily on a fully-trained workforce, on research, on clinical excellence and community contribution. The profession and dental care rely on us as dentists, and on our dental school to be the resource we and our future colleagues need.

"The school provided me with the required knowledge and the clinical skills, with the ability to be a dentist, the beginnings of strong lifelong connections with colleagues and with the foundation to contribute to the health of my community, to earn a living and to live the lifestyle I live."

Further fundraising is in the pipeline with the Faculty of Dentistry and NZDA agreeing to have a new campaign at each conference.

Although nothing has been decided, Brunton is keen on the idea of selling the dental chairs and cubicles in the clinic at the next conference in August.

"My suggestion was $5,000 a chair with a little plaque in the cubicle saying who it is sponsored by. Obviously we're not going to sell them all – we have 250 of them – but it all helps."

Brunton describes the alumni fundraising as “above and beyond” funding.

"I liken it to a hospital ward for children. The hospital provides the beds, the treatment, the doctors, the nurses, but they don't pay for the toys in the waiting room and the things that make it a bit more personal, friendly and child-focused.

"This will give us funding for the things that we might have rather than what we must have. We have already used some of the funds raised for our e-learning project and our uniform change for the students," he says.

"Primarily it wasn't about the money – it was about engaging with the profession over the project and showcasing what we're trying to achieve here."

With the help of the company manufacturing the dental chairs they produced a promotional video for the NZDA conference, which got people excited about the project and the concept of sponsoring the chairs.

"The video was about the school and the people and the journey students go on and the profession within New Zealand. People could connect back with the school, even if they graduated 40 years ago," he says.

"It was about the people. The building's fantastic, but actually it's all about the people.

"You can have the worst building in the world, but if you've got great people you can do great things. You can have the best building in the world, but if you don't have great people you don't do great things.

Alumni can still contribute through the NZDA website and a new initiative will be launched at the next NZDA conference in August.

Some individual NZDA branches are also making contributions to the project. The southern branch has been quickest off the mark with $20,000 for a piece of artwork, in the form of a Māori kite, to go in the new glass atrium of the building.

Brunton is hopeful other branches will make a similar contribution.

"It might be a piece of equipment, it might be a piece of art, or it might be a studentship or something like that: things that we can't really afford to do ourselves."

Dental School’s redevelopment at a glance

  • A new 8,000 sq m building is being built next to the existing Walsh Building to house clinical services, including radiology, oral surgery, paediatric dentistry, undergraduate clinics and orthodontics.
  • 218 new dental chairs will be installed.
  • Construction should be finished about mid-2018, allowing the Walsh Building to be vacated and refurbished to house research laboratories, academic offices, student support and teaching spaces.
  • A 1,425 sq m glass atrium will link the two buildings.
  • Enrolments are expected to lift from 85 to 96 new students, with more than 600 undergraduate and graduate students in total.

Story: Mark Wright
Photo: Alan Dove