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Harold C. Slavkin - July 2016

Harold C. Slavkin, D.D.S., is currently professor and dean emeritus of the University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles. He is one of the world's leading authorities on craniofacial development and genetic birth defects. He began his tenure as dean of the University of Southern California School of Dentistry in August 2000, and completed his tenure on December 31, 2008. 

He received with honors a B.A. in English literature in 1961 at USC and earned his D.D.S. from the School of Dentistry in 1965. As dean, his leadership team was responsible for many innovations in education and teaching, research and discovery, patient and community health care, and leadership. They introduced “learner-centered” education, community outreach programs from San Luis Obispo, California, to the Mexican border, interdisciplinary education and research programs, globalization programs, increased professional continuing education programs, a new Oral Health Center, major renovations of all clinics, new imaging and microbiology testing facilities, and expansions of research.

Prior to his tenure at USC, Slavkin served as the sixth director of the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). Under his leadership, the NIDCR became the lead agency on the first-ever “Surgeon General's Report on Oral Health in America,” which was released in June 2000 by David Satcher. His directorship was also marked by the development of the NIDCR's first strategic plan (“Shaping the Future”), the renaming of the Institute to better reflect the scope of its activities (NIDR became NIDCR in fall 1998), and a $110 million funding increase between 1995 and 1999. 

As a scientist, Slavkin is the author of “Developmental Craniofacial Biology,” which was published in 1979. He has edited nine books, contributed chapters to 91 biomedical science books and published 478 peer-reviewed scientific papers emphasizing craniofacial molecular biology towards understanding how the craniofacial-oral-dental complex is formed. In 2012, his latest book “Birth of a Discipline: Craniofacial Biology” was published as well as his first novel (as part of his bucket list) “Atlanta.” More recently, he collaborated with Mahvash Navazesh and Pragna Patel to contribute an invited chapter “Basic Principles of Human Genetics: A Primer for Oral Medicine” in the 12edition of Burket’s Oral Medicine edited by Michael Glick (2015), and he contributed another invited chapter “Personalized Oral Health Care and the Contemporary Health Care Environment” for Personalized Oral Health Care edited by Peter Polverini (2016).

Slavkin is a founding member of the non-partisan Santa Fe Group, which is a nonprofit organization that serves as advocates for underserved populations to achieve comprehensive and integrated health care (including mental, vision and oral health), with membership that includes business, law, medicine, nursing, public health and oral health professionals. Additionally, he is a member of many dental and scientific organizations, including IADR/AADR, and served as the AADR president from 1993-94. As a leading researcher in the field, he has received many accolades for his research, including the 2016 AADR Jack Hein Public Service Award. He also won the IADR Distinguished Scientist Award (DSA) for Craniofacial Biology Research and the IADR DSA Isaac Schour Memorial Award.

How did you first learn about AADR and what motivated you to join?
I first learned about IADR when I was in dental school. I was invited as a senior dental student to attend the IADR General Session and while I was there I met many exciting people. That experience made me realize that IADR was an organization in which I wanted to be involved. I signed up as a member and I’ve been one ever since then. 

What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of AADR membership?
Having opportunities to network with other members has been one of the most valuable benefits of my membership. Doing research can sometimes be a lonely and frustrating experience. Being in a community where there are available mentors and people who can inspire and motivate was priceless in the early part of my career. Later, it became apparent to me that when you take from an organization, you have an obligation to in turn give back. At the beginning of my IADR membership I was taking, and my membership participation evolved as I advanced in my career and experience. 

How important is it for researchers to cross collaborate with other scientific disciplines to advance the field?
Science is no longer a personal, private experience—it is a group sport. In order to practice science, it is imperative to form collaborations and to learn to communicate. If you look at the papers that were published in the 1950s-1970s, there often were just one to three names on a paper. If you look at today’s research, there can be dozens of names on a scientific paper. I have lived through that genesis and I applaud it. Ultimately, all of this translates into faster, smarter scientific discovery. 

Throughout the course of your AADR membership, what has been your most memorable experience?
There are many memorable moments. In the early phase of my career, I had the opportunity to give an oral presentation in which my oral presentation was a film that I had made in Los Angeles. It was a 10-minute film titled “Intercellular Communications.” People enjoyed it and I received some valuable feedback. It was a great experience as a very young investigator. Later in my career, to be elected as president of AADR was a momentous feeling. It was extremely gratifying for my peers to elect and support me. Being an AADR member has also facilitated some of my community outreach. This outreach has included programs with inner-city schools and working with programs to inspire the less fortunate high school age children and get them excited about science. My colleagues and fellow AADR members supported my outreach efforts, and I was very proud of them and pleased with them for bringing up some of those ideas for outreach.

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