Roger Arce started his graduate education at Universidad del Valle at Cali-Colombia, where he obtained a D.D.S degree (2000) and a Master’s degree in Pharmacology (2005). Dr. Arce then moved to the US to obtain a Ph.D. in Oral Biology (2011) and a specialty certificate in Periodontology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry (2013). He also completed a certificate in Translational Research from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and a postdoctoral fellowship with the Next Generation of Oral Health Researchers (NextGen-NIDCR) training program at UNC. His research interests include molecular host/pathogen interactions and the modulation of inflammatory responses in periodontitis, as well as computer-guided implant surgery systems. Dr. Arce has been awarded the American Academy of Periodontology Foundation (AAPF) Educator Scholarship (2012), the AAPF fellowship to the institute for teaching and learning (2014), and the AAPF Teaching Fellowship (2015). Dr. Arce is currently a Harold Amos AMFDP scholar, a Diplomate of the American Academy of Periodontology and an Assistant Professor of Periodontics in the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University.
How did you first learn about the AADR and what motivated you to join?
I first learned about IADR when I was in Colombia in 1996. One my mentors was trained in the United States, and when he came back to Colombia, I started doing research with him. He emphasized the importance of involvement with the IADR, attending the meetings and presenting our research on the international stage. My first IADR meeting was in 2000, and it was my first international meeting ever to attend and present. I looked at the IADR as an organization through which I could network with colleagues and learn what was going on globally, especially in relation to the research I was conducting at the time in periodontal disease and pregnancy complications.
Can you describe your research? How do you hope your work will impact others?
I currently do research on how periodontal disease challenges our immune system leading to other systemic diseases. I use periodontal disease models to research pathogenesis. In particular, focusing on the role of dendritic cells as the arbiters of the immune response towards infection. I also do clinical research, including research on digital dentistry/implant guided surgery applications. My long-term plan is to understand why some patients are more susceptible to periodontal disease by dissecting the immune responses that takes place, with the hopes of finding possible therapeutic solutions and developing new treatment modalities for periodontal disease patients.
Can you tell a story or give an example of how cross collaboration with other scientific disciplines has been important to your career?
It has been huge. I have worked with many medical colleagues because of the nature of my research. Networking with obstetricians and gynecologists was particularly productive because of my work on periodontal disease and pregnancy complications. I learned very early of the fundamental importance of collaborations with physicians and other health/related specialties. It was actually an eye opening experience on both sides. On the dental side, we learned how infections can alter the course of a normal pregnancy and on the medical side, they learned that periodontal infections could be a significant source of problems during pregnancy. I have moved forward in my career with different objectives but I continue collaborating with immunologists and physicians. In fact, right now I am part of a project with nephrologists on kidney research in transplant patients. The interactions with the medical community has been very important in my career as it has facilitated the development of new research ideas that have enlightened those on the dental and medical sides, on the importance of understanding oral infections in the context of improving outcomes for the patients.
Can you describe your experience being a researcher from an underrepresented group in science?
I definitely felt there was a shortage of representation from the Hispanic community when I arrived to the US. I come from a multiracial country and was not familiar with the concept of underrepresented minority (URM). It was not until I moved to the United States that I understood the importance of representation from every ethnicity. Since then, I have tried to serve as a role model for URMs and other groups interested in what I do. I understand that younger individuals relate very well to mentors with similar cultural, language and ethnic backgrounds. I consistently see this trend in the academic environment and now understand the importance of having a good mentor in your career that you can relate to.
Have you had the opportunity to mentor underrepresented minorities or work to increase diversity in science? If yes, can you describe your experience and what agencies/organizations you worked with?
Yes, gladly I have had the opportunity of mentoring URMs. I have mentored more than 15 graduate students and a good number of them come from [underrepresented groups]. They have always been interested in how I made the decision to come from another country to develop my career, so that they can have a better understanding of how to go about it themselves. I collaborate with the Hispanic Dental Association and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). I am one of [RWJF’s] grantees. In fact, I have had the opportunity to meet with other URMs mentors because of the RWJF faculty development program. I continue to learn from them as we all share experiences on how to be better mentors and help develop those who come after us.
Based on your experience, how would you encourage AADR members to help increase the diversity of the research workforce?
I believe that in these days of global connectivity there are many ways to reach out. Of course having a strong social networking presence is vital. I always do my best to encourage students to join the IADR/AADR. In my role as President of the Georgia section of AADR, I can emphasize the opportunities that presenting at AADR can bring ones career. The Dental College of Georgia does a great job of encouraging the students to showcase their research at the meetings. It is very important for AADR to open up the channels for communication and understand the language of millennials. I feel they speak a “different language” these days and are all connected in a different way. AADR does a good job of being active on twitter and Instagram. I see some good efforts, but as always, there is room for improvement. We can always strive for better ways to connect with dental students very early in their careers to show the importance of research in their future practices.
What role do you think professional associations can play in supporting its members who are members of underrepresented minority/ethnic groups?
I think the main thing is exposure. Role models play an important vital part. If you have a person that personifies achievement and personifies representation for minorities, it will be a great way to motivate others that feel like they want to be like that person. I think the IADR/AADR should identify leaders in the URM groups and highlight them by social networking. This will expose to the many different audiences what is possible and it shows the URMs how it can be done. I think it is going to be vital to recruit future talent and let them know that is actually possible to excel in clinical dentistry and dental research at the same time. I am sure that many of the current leaders are great role models for URMs. This interview is a good example of how to deliver that message for a more diverse workforce.