"I want our students to be people that are sought out, rather than people seeking jobs"
Department of Restorative Dentistry faculty member Dr. Ai Streacker '79 has travelled the globe. He's an avid scuba diver (has been since the age of 13); musician (plays the tuba and guitar); and motorcycle rider and collector (there are four in his garage right now). Indeed, his passions and hobbies have taken him far and wide.
But one particular passion — the one with perhaps the greatest impact — is teaching. After 23 years of private practice, Ai decided it was the right time to pursue work as an educator — something he'd hoped to do since he was an undergraduate. He joined the Dugoni School of Dentistry as a full-time faculty member in 2003.
In addition to instructing students in clinic, Ai serves as director of the First-Year Restorative Curriculum. He is also currently working with colleagues to revise the entire preclinical curriculum, which will ensure Dugoni School students have a current and solid educational foundation before entering the clinic.
"I want to make sure our preclinical curriculum is fully up to date so our students are able to meet the challenges of clinic and a modern-day workforce," said Ai. "Upon graduation, I want our students to be people that are sought out, rather than people seeking jobs."
As he's been teaching for nearly a decade now, Ai has come to realize that the "wow moment" is his favorite part of the job. That moment — watching a figurative light bulb go on when students finally grasp a technique, a concept - is very real and happens at the dental school regularly.
"I see students struggle with techniques, but then there will be that one time when you see it click in their minds and they finally get it. From that point forward they have no more problems with that technique," he said. "That's what does it for me. I can see it happen and it's remarkable."
He also mentions Dugoni School students are grateful for the learning opportunities they receive in the clinic and elsewhere. The students clearly appreciate Ai's work — this past spring, the Class of 2011 gave him the Third-Year Teaching Excellence Award to acknowledge his dedicated efforts as an educator.
When asked if he thinks there's anything that sets the Dugoni School apart from other dental schools, Ai is quick to praise the curriculum and the caliber of his colleagues, but he also recalled an incident from when he was applying to dental school back in the 70s. After a rigorous day of interviews at a southern California school, a student approached him and said "If you can go to any other dental school, do it. You don't want to come here." That is not the kind of conversation likely to take place at Pacific, and when Ai came to interview, students and faculty were welcoming and gregarious (much as they are today).
One issue Ai cares deeply about is health and wellbeing. He's extremely focused on a healthy lifestyle, diet and exercise. His approach towards his patients isn't just to treat their oral health conditions, but to encourage a healthy lifestyle as well. This is also something he makes sure to teach his students — healthy mouths shouldn't be the only priority of a dental professional. Dentists should try to motivate patients to be healthy in other ways too.
"Aside from practicing good dentistry, helping my patients achieve healthier lifestyles is something I'm very proud of," he mentioned. "It was one of the more rewarding things I've done, and is something I'd love my students to embrace as well."
Next year, Ai will assume the role of a practice leader under the Main Clinic's new private practice model. In this role he'll be able to work more closely with the students in his group, prepare them for life after dental school — and hopefully have a lot of wow moments along the way.