USC University of Southern California

Ostrow School Of Dentistry Staff Member Honored In Washington, D.C.

Carmen Molina Diaz
Carmen Molina Diaz, program assistant with Community Oral Health Programs

An Ostrow School of Dentistry staff member was honored on December 6 for her outstanding efforts in oral health education.

Carmen Molina Diaz, program assistant with the Ostrow School’s Office of Community Oral Health Programs, is the 2011 recipient of the DENTSPLY/Harold Slavkin Oral Health Science Education Award. She was honored as part of the Friends of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (FNIDCR) 2011 Annual Conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The award celebrates an individual “who has demonstrated creative and innovative use of science or curricula to teach oral health, which imparts excitement about oral health and oral health research,” according to the FNIDCR website. Diaz’s commendation marks the first time the 13-year-old organization has given the award to a “promotora,” a lay health educator who works within their community to bring health knowledge to local individuals and families.

Diaz, who has been with the Ostrow School of Dentistry since 2005, is known for being an enthusiastic educator who never misses a chance to share oral health knowledge with community members.

“I’m not a dentist; I don’t have any Ph.D., but I do have passion and love for teaching and empowering others to have good oral health, because when we have good oral health our body is also in good health since everything is connected,” Diaz said. “I’m just a woman from the community who wanted to make a difference. I am so excited and so proud to accept this award and represent the Ostrow School of Dentistry.”

As she reaches out to the community surrounding USC, Diaz is a relatable, reassuring source of knowledge. Originally from El Salvador and a mother of two, she understands how many local families have difficulty maintaining good oral health, especially when so many lack both knowledge and access to affordable dental care, she said.

“When I came to this country, I didn’t know anything about dental care,” Diaz said. “Our community knows too little about oral health, and along with a lack of information these is often no dental insurance and no money for dental treatment.”

When she talks with members of the community, she emphasizes that there are simple, effective measures that families can take and that no one is too old to start caring about oral health.

“I strongly believe that knowledge is power and the more you know, the better you life will be,” Diaz said. “I tell people that it is not too late. I tell them ‘you are here getting knowledge, it is your time, and here are the tools.’”

Harold Slavkin, professor and former dean of the Ostrow School as well as former NIDCR director and namesake of the oral health education award, and his wife Lois recognized Diaz’s aptitude for teaching and advocacy and encouraged her to work for the School as a promotora. Slavkin nominated her for the award, lauding her as a shining example of the promotora model for health literacy programs.

“Her teaching and advocacy impacts thousands of families and their children in the region,” he said. “Carmen is an exemplar of the staff support that is so essential to address cultural diversity and health disparities.”

Roseann Mulligan, Ostrow School of Dentistry Associate Dean for Community Health Programs and Hospital Affairs, praised Diaz as an invaluable teacher and leader.

“Her outreach to families throughout the community is a big part of the success of our Community Oral Health Programs,” Mulligan said. “This recognition is very well deserved.”

Ostrow School of Dentistry Dean Avishai Sadan said Diaz’s efforts have set a powerful example for students.

“She is a wonderful role model for our students as they go out to care for the community,” Sadan said. “We are all so proud of her and the work she has done on behalf of the Ostrow School of Dentistry.”