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Left to right: Benjamin Shelling (D’24); Dr. Gail Schupak (D’83); Dr. Esra Sahingur, associate dean for graduate studies and student research; and Jaime Guberman (D’23, GD’25) at the Greater NY Dental Meeting, where the students presented their research through support of the Schupak Research Fund.

Opening Doors

The Schupak Research Fund is increasing student access to the world of dental research.

First as a dental student, and now decades later as an instructor in orthodontics at New York University (NYU), Gail Schupak (D ’83) has seen firsthand the positive impact dental research can have on a student’s future. Through the Schupak Research Fund at Penn Dental Medicine, she is helping to open doors into the dynamic world of professional dental research for students at her alma mater.

Dr. Schupak remembers her own first experience with dental research: as a first-year student at Penn Dental Medicine in 1979, she found Professor Zev Davidovich‘s class in growth and development fascinating. She had been involved in student research as an undergraduate at the University of Rochester, and felt confident in approaching Dr. Davidovich after class.

“I’d love to do research with you,” she told him.

A year later, she joined his team in investigating the use of electric currents to move teeth, and continued working on the project for the remainder of her time at Penn Dental Medicine. The experience sparked her interest in orthodontics, and she completed her residency in the specialty at Columbia University’s School of Dental and Oral Surgery. She is now an established orthodontics practitioner in Manhattan—where she was one of the first providers of Invisalign—a Clinical Associate Professor of Orthodontics at NYU, and the mother of another Penn Dental Medicine alumna, Sarah Karron (D ’20), a general practice dentist who lives with her husband in Texas.

Since Dr. Schupak’s days at Penn Dental Medicine, the School has added more—and more formal— opportunities for students to become involved in faculty research, including the Summer Research Program and the Research Honors program. In 2021, Dr. Schupak strengthened Penn Dental Medicine’s student research program still further by establishing the Schupak Research Fund.

The importance of research to postgraduate success

A few years ago, while conducting residency program interviews in her role as a faculty member at NYU, Dr. Schupak noticed a distinct trend.

“The students who were getting interviews for the top residencies and fellowships had research experience on their resumes,” she says. “It was that simple.”

Dr. Schupak knew how her own research experience had helped her career, and wanted the same benefits for graduates of Penn Dental Medicine, where she serves on the Dean’s Council, recently appointed Vice-Chair, and is a valued mentor to students and young alumni. Providing $10,000 of funding per year for five years, her fund aims to expand access to student research and enhance students’ prospects for appointments to competitive postdoctoral programs both inside and outside the School.

“One of our goals is to inspire more of our students to explore futures in academia, research, and innovation,” says Dr. Esra Sahingur, associate dean for graduate studies and student research, who has worked closely with Dr. Schupak to coordinate and manage the donation. “Funding for student research is limited, so Dr. Schupak’s support is truly a wonderful gift.”

Support for attending professional meetings

So far, Schupak Research Fund has been used to help cover travel expenses to several national professional research conferences for 20 Penn Dental Medicine students, including two recipients of the new Schupak Travel Award, which was presented for the first time at this year’s annual Research Day.

Many of the student beneficiaries of the Schupak Research Fund have attended the Greater New York Dental Meeting, the largest of its kind in the country, held annually in late November. Dr. Schupak, who helps coordinate the meeting each year, is always on hand to welcome Penn Dental Medicine students personally. Benjamin Shelling (D’24) and Jaime Guberman (D’23, GD’25) are just two beneficiaries of the Schupak Fund who have travelled to the meeting, Benjamin to present his poster on “TLR9 Mediates Periodontal Aging by Fostering Senescence and Inflammaging,” and Jamie to present hers on “CBCT Usage in Postgraduate Orthodontic Programs.”

“Having a chance to meet the Penn students is so much fun, and really makes me feel good about the valuable experiences they are having,” says Dr. Schupak, who, in addition to helping coordinate the Greater NY meeting each year, just finished a term as the International President of Alpha Omega, the international dental society. In this role, Dr. Schupak travelled the world representing the society and presided over its international convention in Toronto.

“Thanks to Dr. Schupak, many more of our students now have a chance to understand the important role of scientists in their field,” says Dr. Sahingur, “and to meet and network with the people who are making a difference in the future of dentistry.”

From the Fall 2023 issue of the Penn Dental Medicine Journal.