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Gifts that Keep on Giving

Endowed professorships promote research, mentorship, and outreach

Robert B. Amato, D80, DG83, always makes sure to pass along this advice to his students: "We've been given a gift to have this profession and take care of patients, so whenever we have the opportunity we should give back."

Amato, the Winkler Professor of Endodontics at the School of Dental Medicine, is one of three school faculty members to hold an endowed professorship—one of the highest honors for any college professor.

The family of his mentor, the late Thomas F. Winkler III, A62, D66, D10P, DG12P, created the endowed chair that his former student now holds. Winkler taught at the dental school and was a Tufts trustee and chair of the dental school's board of advisors. "He was involved with everything, and he did it with a smile," Amato says.

Amato continued to emulate his former professor after he joined Winkler's endodontic practice after graduation. He served on the board of the Tufts University Dental Alumni Association, including a term as president, and directed the dental school's postgraduate endodontics program.

In addition to recognition within the academy, endowed chairs provide a perpetual stream of support to professors who have made significant contributions in the classroom and in research and scholarship. And they enable Tufts to recruit faculty who are preeminent in their fields.

Athena Papas, J66, G91P, A97P, A04P, the Dr. Erling Johansen, D49, Professor in Dental Research, says her endowed chair "is recognition for the work I have done. It has helped me secure more grants and expand my research." Papas has done pioneering work with patients with the autoimmune disease Sjögren's syndrome as well as with those with complex medical issues that affect their oral health.

She has been a prolific scientist during her 30 years at Tufts. Papas, who heads the school's oral medicine division, has been the principal investigator for more than 65 clinical trials and secured more than $20 million in research grants. Many of her discoveries have led to treatments that have improved people's lives—a rinse that heals mouth sores in patients who have received a bone marrow transplant or undergone radiation therapy and a drug that stimulates saliva production in Sjögren's patients, who suffer from extremely dry mouth.

It is only fitting that Papas, whose two sons and husband also attended Tufts, holds an endowed professorship steeped in university history. Edward Becker, D34, H94, who named the alumni center and created a scholarship at the school, established the professorship in honor of his friend, Erling Johansen, D49, the dental school's longest-serving dean (1979–1995).

Mark Nehring is the newest dental faculty member to hold an endowed chair—the Delta Dental of Massachusetts Professorship in Public Health and Community Service. The professorship helped Tufts recruit Nehring, the former acting chief dental officer for the federal Health Resources and Services Administration and chief dental officer of the agency's Maternal and Child Health Bureau, to expand its community outreach initiatives.

The endowed professorship, established in 2006 with a $5 million gift from the insurance provider for which it is named, was instrumental in establishing the dental school's department of public health and community service, which Nehring chairs. "An endowment lends itself to bringing a sense of stability and regard for the importance associated with the position," he says.

The Delta Dental donation also funded an electronic patient record system, which allows the school to evaluate clinical outcomes for patients with special needs. Nehring has guided Tufts dental students as they assist in providing care to nearly 6,500 Massachusetts residents with developmental disabilities at eight clinics Tufts runs for the state, a school-based clinic in Boston's Chinatown neighborhood, and in underserved communities from Arizona to Maine. "With that experience and understanding," he says, "there will be a workforce in place to help in meeting the needs of those most underserved."

When all is said and done, the endowed professorships help Nehring, Amato, and Papas do one all-important thing: help people. "I'm very grateful to Tufts and the donors who make this possible," Papas says.