By Kysa Anderson Daniels
DUNWOODY, Ga.–Pamela Cushenan, associate professor of dental hygiene at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College, is this year’s Outstanding Faculty winner for the university’s Carl V. Patton President’s Award for Community Service and Social Action.
The award, named for Georgia State’s ninth president, recognizes students, student organizations, faculty, staff and community partners who are making significant contributions to the greater Atlanta community through outstanding commitment to service.
Cushenan considers the award especially meaningful since it overlaps with her retirement this May from Perimeter College after nearly 18 years.
“I’m proud to have been an integral part of our dental hygiene graduates’ educational journey over the past years,” Cushenan said after the award was announced during an online ceremony prompted by COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.
Cherie Rainwater, dental hygiene associate chair and program director, agrees that Cushenan reflects the Patton award description of recipients who embody the university’s philosophy and commitment to civic responsibility and developing positive connections with the community.
The Patton award highlights Cushenan’s success in developing and coordinating multiple community outreach programs for underserved communities near where she worked at Georgia State’s Dunwoody Campus — and throughout metro Atlanta.
This past year, through collaborative efforts with the Georgia Department of Public Health, Perimeter’s dental hygiene faculty and students and Norton Park Elementary School in Smyrna, Cushenan spearheaded initiatives that brought interactive oral health education programs to 900 children from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. Preventive services also were provided to more than 75 Norton Park students who received dental cleanings, sealants and fluoride treatments.
“All members of our team were able to experience the gratification of making a lasting difference in the lives and welfare of the children and their families,” Cushenan said, noting that the community outreach programs she developed while at Perimeter have included more than 350 dental hygiene students.
As a Perimeter College assistant professor, Cushenan also emphasized public policy as a means to address the dental care needs of underserved communities throughout the state. She created avenues for her students to connect with state lawmakers and participate in Georgia Dental Hygienists’ Lobby Day at the state capitol during each legislative session.
Working with other dental hygienist groups throughout the state, Cushenan and her students played a key role in advocating for the Georgia General Assembly’s passage of House Bill 154, which enables dentists to authorize dental hygienists to provide preventive dental services under general supervision. Cushenan said this means dental hygienists now can work in Title I schools, nursing homes, domestic violence shelters, hospitals and community clinics without a dentist present.
“This increased access to oral care in Georgia for those who need it most,” she said.
Cushenan’s work with Perimeter students regularly took them to nursing homes and even to the harvest fields in Moultrie, Ga. There, Perimeter dental hygiene graduates have participated for years in a partnership between graduates and graduate students from Georgia State, Emory University and the University of Georgia to provide health and dental care to migrant workers and their families.
“She’s always been a giver, never a taker,” Rainwater said of Cushenan during a video tribute shown as part of the awards ceremony. “And what she tries to do is teach our students how to give back to the community.”
In the classroom, Cushenan was equally effective. During her tenure, students almost always experienced a 100 percent pass rate on the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, an outcome Cushenan attributes to “sharp students” and effective program teaching and leadership.
“Pam challenged me, motivated me and inspired me to truly develop a love for the profession of dental hygiene,” said Bekah Adamson, a 2006 Perimeter graduate and immediate past president of the Georgia Dental Hygienists’ Association.
During retirement, Cushenan plans to continue operating SOFT Smiles, a nonprofit she started in 2006 that specializes in oral health training for professionals and family caregivers who help to meet the daily oral care needs of geriatric patients between professional visits.
“After retirement, I plan to continue providing educational sessions on local, state, national, and international levels,” Cushenan said. “My passion lies in developing and implementing educational and dental services in underserved populations.”
She also looks forward to spending more time with her family, as well as a music group called The Loose Shoes Band that she and her husband Ric started nearly 20 years ago. Cushenan is the band manager, guitarist and vocalist.
“And the beat goes on,” she said.