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Michele Darby of Health Sciences Will Be Fulbright Scholar in Jordan

Michele Darby, an eminent scholar and university professor at Old Dominion University and the author of two leading dental hygiene textbooks, will be a Fulbright Scholar next year at least partly because her students can't seem to get enough of her teaching.

Several of Darby's former students who are now faculty members themselves at the Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST) started the wheels in motion that resulted in their mentor winning a Fulbright appointment to their country. Darby is the graduate program director for the Gene W. Hirschfeld School of Dental Hygiene within ODU's College of Health Sciences.

In 2006, Darby was invited by three of her former students to JUST in Irbid, Jordan, where she conducted seminars and did outreach work. Since that short visit the ODU professor has wanted to return to Jordan for the sort of extended professional interaction that the Fulbright Scholars Program makes possible. Her term at JUST will be from Jan. 1 to May 15, 2010.

Darby's Fulbright proposal describes a high prevalence of preventable oral disease in Jordan. Statistics she cites: 48 percent of the population ages 20-29 have bleeding gums; 75 percent ages 14-15 have dental decay; and the oral health of residents, such as Bedouins, who have minimal access to health care is thought to be even worse. She also notes that oral disease can impact overall health, sometimes leading to ailments elsewhere in the body.

"Despite the fact that improvements are being made in the oral health status of the Jordanian population, more efforts are needed to achieve a level of oral health observed in developed countries," she states in the proposal.

The goals Darby has set for the Fulbright term include 1) raising standards of dental hygiene education and practice, such as by addressing the shortage of qualified dental hygiene practitioners and educators; 2) helping JUST graduate dental hygienists who provide care equal to that provided by graduates of programs accredited by the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation; and 3) forming a sustainable partnership between JUST and ODU.

During the term she will teach courses for students and faculty, treat patients in clinical seminars, act as a curriculum consultant and train dentists to integrate dental hygienists into practices in order to offer more cost-effective care.

International travel for professional purposes is nothing new for Darby. She has lectured in China, Italy, Serbia, Moldova, South Korea, Switzerland and Canada, in addition to Jordan. Her books, Comprehensive Review of Dental Hygiene is in its sixth edition, and Dental Hygiene Theory and Practice, is in its third edition and portions of it have been translated for use by Korean- and Japanese-speaking students and instructors. The later book includes a chapter titled "Cross Cultural Practice."

Darby also is associate editor of the International Journal of Dental Hygiene.

She said four of the current students in ODU's master of science dental health program are from the Middle East and that she has personally taught students who have returned to the Middle East and are teaching or practicing in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar, in addition to Jordan. "ODU students are curious about Arabic cultures," Darby added. "I will bring back and share my knowledge of Jordanian culture, Islamic health-care beliefs and practices and cross-cultural health-care and teaching skills."

Two of the first people Darby informed of her Fulbright grant were Laura Paganucci, a grant writer in the ODU Office of Research, and Paganucci's supervisor, Kate Ferguson, director of research development. "I worked closely with Laura and her expertise was helpful in so many areas," Darby said of the work on the Fulbright proposal. "I benefitted from the way she streamlined the process into a task list and timetable for me. Her critical eye ensured that my proposal achieved the clarity necessary for a review board made up of professionals from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines."

The Fulbright Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, has supported nearly 300,000 "Fulbrighters" since it was introduced in 1946. It is a product of legislation introduced by the late Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. The program awards approximately 7,500 grants annually to students, scholars and teachers. Some of the grants support faculty members at U.S. institutions who go abroad to lecture, consult or do research and others go to faculty members from other countries who come to institutions here.

In his note of congratulations to Darby, the College of Health Sciences dean, Andrew Balas, noted that she is the first member of the college's faculty to get a Fulbright scholarship.

This article was posted on: April 27, 2009

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