A smiling and standing in a hallway. He's wearing a gray suit, white button up shirt, a maroon tie, and glasses.
Carlos Smith, D.D.S., joined the VCU School of Dentistry as a faculty member in 2015. (Jud Froelich)

Carlos Smith wins inaugural American Dental Education Association faculty leadership award

Smith, who serves as DEI and ethics director in the VCU School of Dentistry, earned the Dr. Jeanne C. Sinkford Faculty Leadership Award.

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Carlos Smith, D.D.S., diversity, equity and inclusion and ethics director for the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry, was honored at this year’s American Dental Education Association’s Annual Session with the inaugural Dr. Jeanne C. Sinkford Faculty Leadership Award.

Jeanne Sinkford, D.D.S., Ph.D., became the first female dean of a U.S. dental school in 1975 when she was appointed to lead the Howard University College of Dentistry. The award recognizes faculty members who exemplify her legacy as a trailblazer in dental education embracing compassion, integrity, humanism and social justice, and it is intended to inspire and empower the next generation of leaders in oral health education.

Of Smith, the inaugural winner, Sinkford said, “He participated in the ADEA/Kellogg Minority Faculty Development Program at Michigan, and I have always admired the historical and ethical lens through which he constantly inspires us to view and reflect upon the world. I continue to follow his career and am proud of his commitment to making the spaces within dental education and oral health more diverse and inclusive. His love of learning is evident, and in teaching, he empowers students to see the entire person so that they provide the compassion, empathy, respect and care that every person deserves. Most of all, he has the humility to go with his brilliance.”

A new ADEA recognition, the Sinkford Award is made possible by a generous gift from Mary Kay Leonard and Rick Valachovic, D.M.D., president emeritus of ADEA, through the Leonard and Valachovic Fund. Presenting the award at the Annual Session were Valachovic and Dwight McLeod, D.D.S., dean of the A.T. Still University-Missouri School of Dentistry & Oral Health. In presenting the award, McLeod said, “The award is given to a U.S. or Canadian faculty member in dental education who is dedicated to academia, diversity, and social justice, and who demonstrates compassion and integrity. The faculty recipient who exemplifies Dr. Sinkford’s values will influence and encourage others to continue the journey for health equity, diversity and social justice - as there is still much work to be done.”

“In the spirit of Dr. Sinkford, I charge each of us individually and collectively as a dental education community to go further, to take the risk, to envision a dental profession that even the least amongst us would see as trustworthy, just, accessible, free of oppression and the systemic ills that plague us today. We can get there together,” Smith said in an acceptance video.

To be eligible for the award, nominees must hold a full-time faculty position at an ADEA member institution and model characteristics embodied by Sinkford, who was a persistent advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion in the dental profession and a champion for access to oral health care and health equity.

Smith joined VCU School of Dentistry as a faculty member in 2015. In 2020, he was appointed as the school’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion. Smith is also director of the ethics curriculum, teaching a required ethics course that examines the roots of medical mistrust and systemic racism in health care.

Smith is an ordained minister with a unique background combining ethics and dentistry. Much of his work focuses on dental student and faculty well-being, professional identity formation, belonging and inclusive excellence. He played a leading role in ADEA’s Climate Study, which examines data on DEI at U.S. and Canadian dental schools and allied educational programs, and was one of two inaugural Dr. Jerome B. Miller Fellows in ADEA’s Leadership Institute. Last year, he joined a team of faculty members representing VCU as one of 19 universities participating in the development of the American Association of Colleges and Universities’ Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Climate Assessment Toolkit. Recently, Smith served as guest editor for two DEI-themed issues of the Journal of the American College of Dentists, authored a book chapter on ethical considerations in geriatric dentistry and led a multi-institutional study of burnout, loneliness and resilience in dental faculty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Visit ADEA’s website to learn more about the award.