Member Spotlight

Lily T. Garcia
Associate Dean for Education and Professor at The University of Iowa College of Dentistry & Dental Clinics

headshot of Lily Garcia

Lily T. Garcia is Associate Dean for Education at The University of Iowa College of Dentistry & Dental Clinics, Iowa City, and Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics. Garcia has lectured nationally and internationally, and has published articles, abstracts, edited several dental textbooks, served on editorial boards and reviews for several journals. Her study interests include clinical studies involving dental implants, removable prosthodontics and educational work in support of student learning.

She has been a faculty member at the International Dental Academy in Tokyo, Japan, department chair at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center School of Dentistry (UCHSC) and department chair at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.

She completed a Fellowship in the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) Program and The University of Texas System Leadership Institute. She is Past Chair of the Board of Directors for the American Dental Education Association, member of American Association of Dental Research, American College of Prosthodontists, Hispanic Dental Association. She chaired the national task force which completed the ADEA Guidelines on Academia-Industry Interactions.

How did you first learn about the AADR and what motivated you to join?
I left private practice to go into academics full time in 1994. I wasn’t familiar with AADR until I became a full-time academic. My dean at the time at University of Colorado, Robert Averbach, suggested that now that you’re an academician, you need to get involved with two groups – the [American Dental Education Association], and you need to get involved in research too. I joined [AADR] in about 2000. It was through his encouragement and early work with colleagues at Colorado that helped motivate me when I realized I was missing out on a critical aspect if I didn’t get involved.

Can you describe your research? How do you hope your work will impact others?
The work I’ve done has been supported primarily through industry. These projects have been clinical studies on dental implants supporting removable prostheses – to include quality of life issues. One key study was focused on testing a denture adhesive, especially at a time when there was public concern with similar materials and potential misuse by patients. Other projects included basic biomaterials research.

Can you tell a story or give an example of how cross collaboration with other scientific disciplines has been important to your career?
The University of Colorado dental school was considered a small school (class size) at that time, so working with faculty located in adjacent hallways, did not feel like we were crossing disciplines. I was fortunate to work with colleagues with biomaterials expertise and they welcomed collaboration on different studies involving restorative materials. When I relocated to a larger dental school, University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, that’s where I could sense [different] disciplines. I was able to work across disciplines, with oral surgeons and periodontists. You can learn so much from each other. The cross collaboration is the basis for what the next level - interprofessional collaborative patient care – requires, setting aside all egos and working together for better patient outcomes. The intraprofessional work led to straightforward collaborations in clinical studies – look at simple clinical questions to see if we had the right solution.

Can you describe your experience being a researcher from an underrepresented group in science?
As a Mexican-American woman, I did not encounter many role models of similar background. You may hear names now of prominent individuals but not having certain types of role models was not seen as an obstacle. I had supportive key people who asked me to join them in their work based on my area of expertise in prosthodontics. I do realize how important it is to have role models especially for early career students. If they don’t see it, it may be hard to envision that they could participate in similar work. The majority of my mentors up until the last 10-15 years have been primarily men, not identified by race but rather as my colleagues, both peers and senior colleagues. My group of mentors has been respectful, encouraging and supportive; I am grateful for my network that has grown through the years to build on support and expertise. You – each of us – still need to have a focus and be good at what you do professionally.

There are more women entering [dental schools], but you don’t necessarily see enough represented at the top levels of leadership wherein lies the difficulty. Sometimes an environment can be intimidating if no one that looks like you, but I still believe that many academics are in it to work with students and are encouraging to all. For you [as a student] to take that initial step to connect with a faculty member – you may choose that person based on whether or not someone understands you and your background a little better.

Have you had the opportunity to mentor underrepresented minorities (URMs) or work to increase diversity in science? If yes, can you describe your experience and what agencies/organizations you worked with?
I am proud to say a young U.S. Air Force officer who happened to be African American, connected to seek support of her Master of Science project. She showed a strong interest in educational research and identified a unique perspective in her approach. I think someone directed her towards me because of my area of interest. Most importantly, her work helped me focus on areas that impact student learning. There was no formal agency that supported this type of endeavor, but rather a network of colleagues who dedicate themselves to helping students connect with others.

In an expanding global environment, I’ve also mentored a fellow from Saudi Arabia. He connected to share possible topics so we developed a concept from which he was able to study further and publish. This project involved diverse group of colleagues - Saudi Arabian, Asian and Mexican-American working on a common question!

Based on your experience, how would you encourage AADR members to help increase the diversity of the research workforce?
I would look for every opportunity to get someone involved even on the smallest scale. To learn how to conduct research and learn the writing skills, you have to start small and start early; involve junior or new faculty. When you join a research-intensive school, it can be intimidating to work alongside well-accomplished researchers. The junior or new faculty member or student should ask how you can contribute and if not with that [principal investigator], they will help you find someone who aligns with your research interests. In the current environment, collaborative work is leveraged for successful funding. Whether the principal investigator or new researcher, if you’re a good team-player, what team do you want to play on?

What role do you think professional associations can play in supporting its members who are members of underrepresented minority/ethnic groups?
Advocate for funding incentives that include people with both the expertise and backgrounds to enrich collaboration. Provide incentives to well-established researchers that incentivize or motivate them to engage junior faculty, students and individuals from different backgrounds (URM); create the inclusive research environment that builds acceptance. Beyond simple networking in association work or at meetings, ask, “How can I work with you (the member)?” It’s really connecting people – all (URM) people – in a deliberate and meaningful way.