UConn graduate and past faculty member Dr. Richard Valachovic ’77 is retiring after 21 years of innovative leadership at the American Dental Education Association
When Dr. Richard Valachovic ’77 DMD started dental school at Georgetown University, he assumed he would return to his hometown of Schenectady, New York and enter private practice upon graduation. But life had a different path in store.
In June 2019, he will retire from his current position as CEO and president of the American Dental Education Association, where he has been a visionary leader since 1997. He has also spent significant time teaching at the UConn and Harvard Schools of Dental Medicine.
Dr. Valachovic realized early on that he was interested in the impact of research in his field. So, he transferred to UConn’s School of Dental Medicine, where he found what he was looking for —integration of dental and medical learning and the opportunity to pursue research that directly affected dental education and practice.
After pursuing a residency in pediatric dentistry at Boston Children’s Hospital, he was invited back to UConn in 1979 by a former mentor of his, Dr. Allan Reiskin, professor of oral radiology and diagnosis.
“That was my entry into faculty life,” says Dr. Valachovic. “You always think you’ll teach things in a different way than you were taught. But I got a great deal of support from my colleagues at UConn, across the health professions, and benefitted a great deal from their advice.”
At the time, he teamed up with Dr. Alan Lurie, who now serves as the chair of the Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Diagnostic Sciences at UConn, to co-author a paper on the effects of radiation on children.
“This was around the time that the accident happened at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant,” says Dr. Valachovic. “There was a great deal of interest in radiation in general. But a faculty mentor cautioned me not to stay focused on one thing.”
This advice led to his pursuit of both a Master of Public Health degree and a Master of Science in health policy and management from Harvard’s School of Public Health.
“My career has always been about health policy and management as it relates to dentistry,” he says. “Dentists need to think of themselves as part of a universal health care community.”
Dr. Valachovic’s 20+ years of work with the American Dental Education Association have reflected this belief in several ways. Under his leadership, the Association has been transformed through what he calls “the relentless pursuit of strategic alliances.” These partnerships—with organizations from government, healthcare practice, education, scientific research and philanthropy—have helped to place dental medicine and the education of future dentist squarely in the realm of mainstream health.
“I credit Rick with revitalizing the American Association of Dental Schools (as ADEA was known at the time),” says Dr. Sharon Gordon, UConn’s current dean of the School of Dental Medicine. “I believe his unique background in research and in dental education informed his approach to growing ADEA and strengthening its connections to other professional organizations.”
Under his leadership, the Association also devised strategic plans to address the anticipated lack of full-time academics in dental education, foster a robust research foundation within the profession, and incorporate new models of teaching and learning, including community-based education.
“Few in dental education have contributed more to its advancement than Rick Valachovic,” says Dr. R. Lamont MacNeil, immediate past dean of the UConn School of Dental Medicine. “He has had a major, positive effect on our schools, our faculty and the programs we offer. Because of his efforts through ADEA, dental education took giant steps forward in becoming a more engaged and important part of the health education dynamic. We are stronger, better, and more prepared for the future as a result.”
In addition to his steady leadership at the ADEA, Dr. Valachovic has held positions in various health care collaboratives and dental associations and been recognized repeatedly for his teaching and mentorship. In 2012, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree from UConn.
“UConn is a unique place to learn because the collegiality is so strong,” he says. “That has value in attracting the very best students and faculty and in preparing the best dentists for the future.”
While Dr. Valachovic says he will take an obviously well-deserved vacation following his retirement from ADEA, he doesn’t think he’ll be away from the university setting for long: “I’d like to get back into higher education.”