Alumni Spotlights:
2021 Reunions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN CELEBRATION OF CLASS REUNIONS TAKING PLACE IN 2021, we asked several members of our celebrating classes to reminisce about their dental school days, offer advice to current students or catch us up on where life has taken them. See what they have to say below:

Class of 1986

Michael Madden headshot

Mike Madden DDS ’86

 

Who at USC Dentistry made a difference in your life, and how?

Love him or not, Dr. Richard Kahn’s unapologetic demand for excellence pushed all students to the highest level of professional care. It wasn’t easy, but it made a difference in my career.

 

What’s your best memory from dental school?

Putting together the yearbook for the class of 1986. The senior year was filled with stress, and this event was one of the few times where I could relax and have some fun.

 

What advice would you give to USC Dentistry students today that you wish you had known?

Don’t try to predict the exact path of your professional success at the time of graduation. Your dental career will take many turns. The journey you take is the actual reward. When opportunity presents itself, take it, and enjoy the ride.

 

 

stefan zweig headshot

Stefan Zweig DDS ’86, ENDO ’92

 

Catch your classmates up on your life after USC Dentistry.

Following graduation in 1986, I practiced general dentistry for 3 years. I returned to USC in 1990 for my advanced endodontics residency and received my endodontics certificate in 1992. From 1992 until 1998, I served on the faculty of the Department of Endodontics at USC, serving as assistant director of graduate endodontics. Concurrently, I maintained a private practice limited to endodontics in San Marino, Calif., until my retirement from practice in 2018. I returned to USC in 2013 and am currently an associate professor of clinical dentistry in the Division of Endodontics and Orthodontics, working primarily with advanced endodontic residents. In addition, I have a longstanding relationship with the American Association of Endodontists, serving on its board of directors, as a Trustee of the AAE Foundation, and most currently as the Vice President of the Association. My presidency will begin in 2023.

 

What about your USC dental education made the biggest impact on your career?

I came to USC because of its reputation as being the finest dental school in the world and for producing the best clinical dentists. From day one, our faculty had extremely high expectations of us and expected us to work extremely hard to achieve excellence. They instilled in us the importance of a strong work ethic, high moral values, an attention to detail and a striving for professional and technical excellence. Mediocrity was not an option. The four years were difficult and grueling. Leaving the school at midnight only to return at 8 a.m. the next morning was not uncommon. But in the end, we were competent and confident and ready to practice dentistry at its highest level. It was the discipline and knowledge I had achieved at USC that carried my through my successful careers as a dentist, endodontist, educator and leader in dentistry. I am extremely grateful for the exemplary education I received and for my ability and inclination to give back to my profession.

 

Who at USC Dentistry made the greatest impact on you?

There are so many people at USC Dentistry who have inspired me over the years, both as a clinical dentist and as an educator. Dr. Al Solnit was my first encounter with a faculty member. He was tough yet caring. He wanted only the best for us, but expected us to work extremely hard to achieve excellence in our goals. He set the tone for the entire educational process at USC. Later, I met Dr. Bernie Levin, who was a kind and gentle soul, but a legend and innovator in the field of removable prosthodontics. He inspired me to become an educator, and my first academic appointment at USC was in the then Department of Removable Prosthodontics. Later, Dr. Marwan Abou-Rass, chairman of the Department of Endodontics and director of the advanced program in endodontics at USC, mentored me to become the best endodontist I could possibly be. His dedication to education inspired me to become an educator and to practice at the highest and most innovative level. I am truly grateful for all these individuals who have made me what I am today.

 

What’s your best memory from dental school?

My best memory of USC is the friends I made, many of which I am still friends with today and communicate with on a daily basis. We built such a special relationship with one another, and for this I am forever grateful. Drs. Martyn Green, Gary Solnit, Jay Solnit, Kenny Jacobs, David Levine, Dan Solomon, Kurt Silberstein and Curtis Jansen — you are my brothers for life. Your support, humor and friendship carried us through a difficult, challenging, yet fun time in our lives. Also, I was able to meet Judy, my wife, who was a dental hygiene student and who I have been married to for 33 years. Her love and support to me and our two daughters, Jenna and Lily, is the most special thing in my life.

 

What advice would you give to today’s dental students that you wish you had known?

Dentistry is such a rewarding profession. Your success will come from striving for excellence, treating your patients well and practicing morally and ethically. But your legacy will come from giving back to your community and your profession. Maintain your relationship with the school. Become a lifelong learner. Become an educator. And assume leadership positions that will enable you to make contributions which will enhance and improve dentistry going forward.

Class of 2001

Chris Acone portrait

Chris Acone DDS ’01, PERIO ’04

 

Catch your classmates up on your life after USC Dentistry.

After completing the advanced periodontics program at USC, I went on to teach part-time in the advanced periodontics clinic. During the time that I was teaching in the clinic, I was also out getting a feel of what the “real world” of dentistry was like. I used this time to strengthen my clinical skills and to build relationships with my colleagues. In 2009, thanks to the support from family, friends, colleagues and patients, I was able to open up my private practice in Torrance. I have since transitioned into a full-time solo practitioner. Throughout the years I have been fortunate enough to be able to travel the world, get involved with organized dentistry and participate in more community service.

 

What about your USC dental education made the biggest impact on your career?

The friendships that I developed while at U.S.C. and the alumni support that I continue to receive to this day has had the greatest impact on my career

 

Who at USC Dentistry made a difference in your life and how? 

It was a combination of several people at USC that made a difference in my life. There is not enough space here to list all of the individuals, but the few that come to mind are as follows 1.) My big brother in dental school, Dr. Ron Curtis because he is still literally my big brother and continues to be a big part of my everyday life 2.) Dr. Hessam Nowzari: He helped open my eyes to seeing and approaching things in life from a more scientific and analytic perspective 3.) Dr. Jack Preston: He is a visionary, and it was a fun seeing how much he loved dentistry 4.) Dr. David Garrett: He was the first person to help me “get on my feet” after I graduated and was an inspiration for me to give back to others as he did to me. Of course, the staff at USC made a big difference as well because I saw them every day, and they were a great source of support. They may not hear that enough, but it is true.

 

What’s your best dental school memory? 

My best memory of dental school was the day that I actually finished because I was more than ready to start the next chapter in my life by applying and enhancing the knowledge that I acquired over all of those years.

 

What advice would you give to dental students today that you wish you had known? 

Whether you plan on owning your own practice or not, I would advise students to attain some working knowledge of how to run a business.

Class of 2006

Karen Liang portrait

Karen Liang DH ’02, DDS ’06

 

Who at USC Dentistry made a difference in your life, and how?

My USC education and experience have been enriched by many of my extraordinary mentors, all of whom had made invaluable impacts in my life. Among them, Dr. Gary Harmatz have given me guidance and advice every step of my professional career. His mentorship began when I was still a pre-clinical dental student. To broaden my knowledge and enrich my educational experience, he introduced me to Newport Harbor Academy of Dentistry — a prestigious organization where I learned from world-renowned speakers and dental educators. After I graduated, Dr. Harmatz introduced me to my first job and gave me invaluable advice on how to balance my professional and family life. He was my sounding board for all of my practice transitions and brought me on board to the Century Club, where I have the opportunity to come full circle and give back to USC Dentistry and provide mentorship as he did for me. Generous and exceptional individuals like Dr. Gary Harmatz are the very essence of our USC dental family.

 

What’s your best memory from dental school? 

The most memorable time at USC dental school would have to be those countless hours we spent after school in the third floor Sim Lab. Many of us would spend our evenings in the lab working away till midnight. We would have stayed longer, but we got kicked-out at midnight. So vivid are my memories of the music in the background, the sounds of high-speed handpieces and the smell of cut typodont tooth! The busy work then are such sweet memories now.

 

What advice would you give to dental students today that you wish you had known? 

I was fortunate to have wonderful mentors while I was a student at USC dentistry. They always encouraged and challenged me to learn beyond the basic. I felt well prepared clinically for private practice. There are two pieces of advice I would give. Think beyond your requirements and seek out challenges. Now is the best time to learn with oversight and experience of your faculty, who can hold your hands through each step of the learning process. Think about where you want to be 10 years from now and work backwards. If your desire is to transition into private practice, spend some time with your mentors in private practice settings to learn the nonclinical aspects and inner workings of a private practice.

Class of 2011

Lawrence Fung portrait

Lawrence Fung DH ’07, DDS ’11

 

Catch your classmates up on your life after USC Dentistry.

Currently residing in Marina Del Rey, super thankful for a private practice in West Los Angeles. Been thankful to be involved with USC on their Board of Governors and USC Athletics, at the dental school on their Board of Councilors and Friends of Dentistry. Outside of private practice, I’m associated with a toothpaste company (Hello Products) that was recently acquired by Colgate and currently working with a dental 3-D printing company, SprintRay.

 

What about your USC dental education made the biggest impact on your career?

I am really thankful to have been given the tools to be a lifelong learner. I am also very thankful to the mentorship I was given while I was a student at USC and beyond. Most importantly, I learned no matter what, how tough the road gets, to keep fighting on.

 

Who at USC Dentistry made a difference in your life and how? 

All of my faculty members and staff and fellow classmates taught me a lot. They all taught me compassion, how to develop a high emotional intelligence and to always keep pushing myself to be better everyday. They also taught me the importance of family, how we must take care of each other and our communities we live in.

 

What’s your best dental school memory? 

2009 Rose Bowl — nail biter win against Penn State!

 

What advice would you give to dental students today that you wish you had known? 

I would say to enjoy every minute of school. Learn as much as you can in school, really take advantage of the amazing faculty members. There are so many lifelong lessons that can be learned at school that will make life after graduation in private practice so much easier!!

Joan Beleno portrait

Joan Beleno Sanchez DH ’11

 

Catch your classmates up on your life after USC Dentistry.

I am currently working as clinical/research faculty and course director in both the DH and DDS programs at Herman Ostrow. I also work as a dental hygienist at two private practice offices in Los Angeles. I am currently the Century Club Alumni Association President and am creatively trying to navigate through the pandemic to stay in touch with alumni and continue to support our students. My husband Mike and I recently bought our first home with my 2-year-old daughter Aurielle and are expecting our next baby Trojan in August.

 

What about your USC dental education made the biggest impact on your career?

My USC dental education has given me the opportunity to grow as a leader in my field and to be a lifelong learner. Becoming a USC faculty member after graduation has exposed me to opportunities that I would not otherwise have had, and I am so thankful for the growth in my career.

 

Who at USC Dentistry made a difference in your life and how?

Diane Melrose and Dr. Abdi Sameni have truly made the most impact in my career and have made a huge difference in my life as well. Both have encouraged me to find my true passion within dentistry and have cultivated my skills all while supporting me throughout the process.

 

What’s your best memory from dental school?

The best memory from USC dental school has to be the overall Trojan spirit — from the football games to the social events to graduation. They all made my time in school memorable and unique to the USC spirit.

 

What advice would you give to USC Dentistry students today that you wish you had known?

Always be on your “A” game. You never know who is taking notice. That one positive interaction could lead to an opportunity you would never expect and trust in the Trojan network to support you.

 

Class of 2016

Omar Kholaki in a suit

Omar Kholaki DDS ’16

 

Catch your classmates up on your life after USC Dentistry.

Since graduation, I moved to Dallas, Texas to start an oral and maxillofacial surgery residency at Parkland/UTSouthwestern. I married the love of my life, Areej, in 2017 and we have been thriving in Dallas. COVID was particularly challenging for me as I was doing my general surgery year through residency, but the highlight of 2020 was welcoming our new baby boy, Kareem! He’s been such a joy in our lives. Residency has been grueling, and I’m getting ready to start the sixth and last year this summer. I am anticipating a return to Southern California upon graduation in June of 2022 and hope to reconnect with all of the Trojan Alumni and faculty.

 

What about your USC dental education made the biggest impact on your career?

By far, the mentorship offered by the outstanding faculty and the network I built through my time at USC. I still often keep in touch with faculty like Dr. Jack Lytle, Dr. Natalie Nguyen, Dr. Scott Adishian and was fortunate to have a few chances to stop by the dental school and see Dean Sadan and others. I owe all of my professional success to their tireless efforts to educate, guide and support me during my dental training and still lean on them for support to this day. I have kept in touch with my close dental school classmates and am so proud to see their successes as they open practices, transition into partnerships and ownership through what has been a rollercoaster of a year.

 

Who at USC Dentistry made a difference in your life and how?

Of all of my aforementioned mentors, Dr. Jack Lytle made the biggest difference in my life. During my early years in dental school, I was not quite sure where the profession was taking me. I was drawn to the oral surgery clinic and met Dr. Lytle during my first year and was shocked at his professionalism, calm demeanor, outstanding clinical abilities and his knowledge. I tried to soak in every word he said like a sponge. I would spend hours in the oral surgery clinic, often racing down after seeing my patients on the second floor clinic, just to watch him and the residents working on their sedations. I still keep in touch with him and with a similar enthusiasm share some interesting cases we have or bounce ideas off him. Ultimately for me, he embodies what an alumnus can and should do for the university. He donates so much time and money with the sole purpose of bettering the education for the next generation — a true hero of USC in my eyes.

 

What’s your best memory from dental school?

My best memories come in the form of time spent “in the trenches” of sim-lab after hours working on drawings and wax-ups for Dr. Magne, packing amalgam and prepping our first teeth for Dr. Abedi, layering composite and removing “caries” in plastic teeth with Dr. Keselbrener and refining crown preparations for Dr. Sheh, Dr. Anderson and Dr. Cho! There was something about the camaraderie shared in that lab with 140+ classmates that made the experience so memorable. Though as a dental school, perhaps the most memorable moment for me was at LAC/USC externship where I spent two weeks with the oral and maxillofacial surgery service taking call, participating in OR procedures and extractions with the residents and faculty. I was very fortunate to learn so much from them and still use some of their tips and tricks in my residency today.

 

What advice would you give to USC Dentistry students that you wish you had known?

Take the time to form the life-long connections with your faculty and classmates; four years flies by so quickly! It’s difficult to appreciate the bond you’ll form with them while going through the rigorous curriculum, but trust me when I say you’ll miss it when you’re done! Also, from a technical standpoint, make the small straight elevator (301) your best friend. It is a powerful instrument for extractions and with the guidance of your senior dental classmates and the oral surgery faculty, you too can learn to be efficient and effective with it for extractions. Lastly, be sure to give back. So many alumni have worked tirelessly to afford us the opportunities to an excellent dental education, and I am a firm believer in giving back. Offer your time and mentor some students when you become an alumus. Take the time to participate in alumni events and perhaps even donate back to the school so you can help others enjoy the experience as much as you did. I still frequently get emails or text messages from aspiring oral and maxillofacial surgeons and am enthralled when I have the opportunity to help guide them in their journey. Please reach out if you’re interested!