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Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008

Karen M. Yoder

Thomas Ehrlich Awards for Excellence in Service Learning

Associate Professor of Preventive and Community Dentistry
School of Dentistry
University Graduate School
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Appointed to IU faculty, 1968
A.S.D.H., Indiana University, 1962
B.S., Indiana University, 1963
M.S.D., Indiana University, 1983
Ph.D., Indiana University, 1997

"Dr. Yoder is one of the country's most well-respected experts in this methodology, and her unique combination of service learning with problem-based learning has influenced medical and dental educators across the country."

--Michael S. Oliphant, Director, Chicago AIDS Network for Dental Outreach, University of Illinois at Chicago

Karen Yoder believes that service learning is about more than just community service hours -- it is a way of teaching her students at the Indiana University School of Dentistry about public health, civic responsibility, health policy advocacy, and cultural respect. "My responsibility is to foster greater understanding of the diverse and complicated personal and societal factors that create barriers to dental care for children and adults," she says.

Yoder, associate professor of preventive and community dentistry and director of the Division of Community Dentistry, is widely regarded as a national expert in the area of service learning in dental education. In addition to being a highly sought-after consultant and educator, in 2006 she published a framework for service learning in the Journal of Dental Education that is informing practice not only in dental education but in higher education as a whole. "She has contributed to our collective understanding of the theory and practice of service learning in dental education," says Sarena D. Seifer, executive director of Community-Campus Partnerships for Health and research associate professor at the University of Washington.

When Yoder became director of the Division of Community Dentistry in 2001, she developed an ambitious strategic plan to integrate service learning into the School of Dentistry curriculum, despite limited resources. The results, according to Domenick Zero, chair of the Department of Preventive and Community Dentistry, have been nothing short of phenomenal. "[She] almost singlehandedly has either fully implemented all of her goals or has made considerable progress towards doing so," he says.

One of Yoder's key successes was the establishment in 2002 of an elective course called Service Learning in Community Oral Health. The course, made possible by a partnership between the School of Dentistry, Indiana Donated Dental Services, and Goodwill Industries, allows fourth-year dental students to provide dental services to developmentally disabled adults at no cost. In 2006 the School of Dentistry received Goodwill Industries' Community Partner of the Year Award, and in 2007 the Indiana Dental Association presented the school with an Outstanding Service Award in recognition of its contributions to the goals of the Indiana Donated Dental Services program.

Yoder also created the SEAL INDIANA program, a required rotation for fourth-year dental and second-year dental hygiene students. Students travel throughout the state in the Seal Mobile, providing sealants and other preventive, educational, and referral services to children from low-income families. Since the program's inception in 2003, more than 15,000 Hoosier children have received services.

Inspired by her own experience serving in Tanzania for five years early in her career, she has established international service-learning programs in Mexico, Haiti, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Brazil. To date nearly 100 students have participated in the programs, providing dental care and supplies to underserved populations in these countries.

Still, Yoder knows that service-learning activities must be connected to the big picture. "Equity in access to oral health is more than a need for volunteerism; it is a much larger societal issue, and therefore, dental students need to learn the connection between service learning and becoming activists in shaping public policy," she says. In 2005 Yoder, working with the Indiana Dental Association, founded the annual Oral Health Policy Forum, a one-day public policy session for fourth-year dental students

Yoder's contributions have been recognized with numerous awards and honors. In 2005 she was named an IUPUI Boyer Scholar, receiving a stipend to conduct research on service learning and civic engagement. Most recently she was named a Fellow of the IU School of Nursing's Institute for Action Research in Health.

Perhaps her contributions are best summed up by her colleague G. Edward Popcheff, director of governmental affairs at the Indiana Dental Association. "Dr. Yoder's work provides a good example of dental professionals' public responsibilities," he says. "Programs like the annual Oral Health Policy Day and SEAL INDIANA have enabled students to appreciate their role in improving public health and recognize their responsibilities to society."