The field of dentistry has historically lacked diversity. According to the American Dental Education Association, in 2016, only 15.2 percent of those applying to dental schools nationwide were underrepresented minorities, including Black and Hispanic applicants. 

Seven years ago, two students at NYU College of Dentistry created a program to try and tackle this problem in New York City—starting well before students apply to dental school. 

The program, Saturday Academy, introduces New York City high school students from underrepresented backgrounds to the field of dentistry to get them excited about a possible career path as a dentist. Students in the free program—which meets Saturday mornings each fall at NYU College of Dentistry—participate in a combination of college preparation and dentistry activities. 

The Saturday morning programs are run by NYU dental students, who volunteer to lead the high schoolers through hands-on activities like making mouthguards or learning how to clean teeth and fill cavities using mannequins. These activities are paired with supporting high school students with the college application process, from reviewing the Common Application and discussing financial aid, to practicing interview skills and developing personal statements. 

Lorel Burns, DDS and Cheryline Pezzullo, DDS, co-founded Saturday Academy as dental students. They now oversee the program as faculty members at NYU College of Dentistry. 

“New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the country. It’s important for patients to be able to connect with their providers through culture and language, but in order to do this, we need more dentists who can connect with their patients and understand their backgrounds,” said Dr. Pezzullo. 

“High school students may not be thinking about dentistry as a career option, especially if they’ve never seen a dentist that looks like them. Our research shows that Saturday Academy significantly increases students’ interest in dentistry, and we hope this helps to create a more diverse pipeline of dental students in years to come,” said Dr. Burns.

Since Saturday Academy first started in 2013, 120 high school students have completed the program. Applications are currently open for the fall 2019 Saturday Academy cohort; the deadline is July 15, 2019. For more information, visit