When Edward Rossomando graduated from dental school, he announced that he wasn’t interested in opening a dental practice—much to his father’s consternation.
Instead, he wanted to become a scientist, hoping to have a broader impact on the dental field.
“At that time, the DNA molecule had just been deciphered. It made a huge impact on me in terms of what it could do for dentistry,” he explains.
Rossomando, professor emeritus of the UConn School of Dental Medicine, went on to earn a doctoral degree at Rockefeller University and subsequently invented new dental technology that advanced the field. Now he wants to give UConn dental students the same chance to be entrepreneurs.
He recently established a new scholarship that will enable students to engage in entrepreneurship, such as enrolling in one of UConn’s technology innovation programs, developing a prototype, or doing marketing research. Potentially, they could go on to invent and market a product that could revolutionize the profession, he says.
Rossomando noted that many of the innovations in dentistry, such as high-speed hand pieces and hydraulic chairs, were invented by dentists.
“The next round of discoveries will be around biological discoveries, like stem cells, genes, and gene editing,” he predicts. “Students will have ideas along these lines. I wanted to set up a scholarship that in the future encourages these students to go forward.”
Caroline Dealy, associate professor in Department of Orthodontics, says Rossomando’s gift is forward-thinking and will ultimately help patients.
“This is the kind of idea that moves the needle forward in terms of the larger vision of bringing the field of dentistry into the 21st century and keeps it current so patients ultimately get the best care with the most innovative and cutting-edge technologies,” says Dealy, who holds secondary appointments in the departments of biomedical engineering, orthopedic surgery, and cell biology.
Steven Lepowsky, DDS, dean of the School of Dental Medicine, said the gift builds upon the university’s growing reputation for innovation.
“We are incredibly grateful for Professor Rossomando’s gift, which will encourage entrepreneurship in our dental students,” Lepowsky says. “UConn has one of the top public dental schools in the nation and we are thrilled to see it supported in this way.”
Rossomando made his own contributions to the field. During the early 1980s, he invented technology that uses magnetic beads to monitor biochemicals in body fluids. At the time, he had no idea how to license and market his new invention, so he enrolled in a technology management program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to learn some entrepreneurial skills.
He has long been passionate about encouraging entrepreneurship in his students. In 1980, he founded the Dental Student Research Society at the dental school. Later, in 2000, he took a leave of absence from UConn to work at the National Institutes of Health in the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. When he returned to UConn, he set up entrepreneurial programs for students, including a summer program that paired dental students with members of the dental industry.
He also co-founded the Center for Research and Education in Technology (CRET), a national organization that awards dental schools throughout the U.S. with innovation centers. Specifically, dental schools compete to be awarded more than $1 million of equipment and supplies to establish an innovation center at their school equipped with the latest technology. So far, CRET has set up set up five such centers at dental schools around the country, he says.
“It’s all about giving back to the profession as much as I possibly can, particularly to the students. All my effort focused on the students while teaching. Everything was focused on encouraging the next generation of students to follow their own journey. If, in following their journey, they improve the profession, that would just be the icing on the cake.”
Rossomando was one of the first faculty members hired in 1972 when UConn first opened a dental school. When he arrived, everything was still so new that there weren’t any chairs in some of the conference rooms, so everyone had to sit on the floor. Now, he and his wife, Nina, a clinical psychologist, are retired and live near the ocean in Westerly, R.I. They are parents to two daughters and four grandchildren.
Rossomando says he is hopeful that some of the students he has taught during his four decades at UConn might consider supporting his scholarship.