Emerging Leaders: Alexandra Howell

Last year, we spoke with several ASDA leaders from the Dental College of Georgia who were just beginning their new leadership roles—one year later, we decided to follow up and see what they’ve learned, experienced, and changed since 2017.

This article is a continuation of a piece that appeared in the May 2018 issues of GDA Action. 

alexandra howellALEXANDRA HOWELL
»» 2018–2019 Vice President
»» 2017–2018 District 4 Trustee

My favorite thing about serving as District 4 Trustee this past year has been all of the relationships and connections that I have made so far. I have made lifelong friends through ASDA who I may never have met otherwise—people who truly understand everything I am going through in dental school—both the ups and the downs. I have also made connections to dentists and leaders who have served as my mentors to help guide me in this phase of life, both personally and professionally.

As part of my role as Trustee, I was in charge of planning and executing the District 4 ASDA conference that we held in Asheville, NC, this past January. We had almost 300 registered attendees from seven different dental schools in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee. I spent nine months planning the weekend conference, all while trying to stay afloat in my academics and traveling for ASDA board meetings as well. It was a whirlwind of a time, and I gained so many new skills that I never expected to have in dental school. I learned how to review hotel contracts, negotiate with vendors, plan meeting programming, and especially how to manage my time more efficiently. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to facilitate a weekend for dental students to network and gain invaluable information to help them prepare for their future careers.

I have been surprised by how much I could be stretched this past year, in terms of time and stress management. With the job as Trustee and as ASDA Chapter President at the Dental College of Georgia, I reached a new level of busyness that I didn’t even know was possible. But I quickly realized that when true passion lies at the heart of our motivations for leadership positions, it becomes so much easier to find the time to devote to them. For me, being a part of these leadership roles gives me a greater vision of why I am in dental school and why I have chosen to be a dentist. The work I am accomplishing through ASDA and the opportunities I have had make all of the tough days of dental school worth it.

Overall, my experiences with ASDA will help me immensely in my future career, mainly because of the vast leadership experiences and development of my personal communication and management skills. With every ASDA event and meeting that I attend, I learn something new about dentistry in general – whether it relates to technology, dental materials, or even business and finances. Through ASDA I have also realized that I have a passion for teaching, which has led me to begin to pursue a career in dental academia. I love working with students of all ages and being able to lead them in this role makes me excited about those potential opportunities in my future career as well.

As far as organized dentistry, I can’t think of a role that would prepare me better. One of ASDA’s core missions is to introduce students to lifelong involvement in organized dentistry, encouraging participation throughout dental school and beyond. This goal is accomplished not only through networking, but also through conveying the importance of organized dentistry. ASDA helps students understand the issues that we face both in dental school and after we graduate, and it gives students a voice to advocate for our profession. 

After all of the ASDA meetings and conferences I have attended and the various other dental schools that I have had the opportunity to visit, I have made so many friends at other dental schools. I am so grateful for the unique networking opportunities. Since the Dental College of Georgia is the only dental school in Georgia, it can sometimes be difficult to connect with dental students from other schools outside of ASDA events. I would say that I now have at least one friend or acquaintance at almost every single dental school in the nation. It has been such an asset to have those connections, even just to have an “outsider” who knows exactly what I’m going through and can sympathize with my struggles while also celebrating accomplishments with me as well. It has also been interesting to share stories and ideas with other students, comparing and contrasting our personal experiences in dental school. Because I am interested in pursuing a career in academia, I especially am benefitting from these conversations because I am getting a better idea about the similarities and differences among dental schools.

Overall, my main goal as ASDA Vice President this year is to lead this association to the best of my ability and make sure that ASDA is running as efficiently and productively as possible. As a member of the Executive Committee, I also want us to be able to accurately represent all dental students and be able to support their needs. Many of my jobs as Vice President will include advocating on behalf of students and fighting for the issues that are affecting us daily. These issues include topics like dental licensure reform and student debt. We understand that some of those issues may not change overnight and that the power to evoke change is not always easily attainable. But planting seeds along the way and educating our fellow classmates are the ways we as individuals can make a lasting difference. Ultimately, the advocacy efforts through organized dentistry are what make our profession one of the best in the nation, and I am so excited to continue to be a part of that student voice this year.