SODM Class of 2021 Commencement Speaker Announced

President of the National Dental Association Pamela Alston

We are pleased to announce Pamela Alston, president of the National Dental Association (NDA), as this year’s School of Dental Medicine Class of 2021 commencement speaker. Based in California, Alston will provide virtual remarks during the in-person ceremony for the graduating students on May 28 at 9:30 a.m. The event will also be livestreamed to family and friends.

“Dr. Pamela Alston is a remarkable leader and trailblazer in dentistry—particularly when it comes to advocating for representation, equity and inclusion in our field—and we are honored to have her as this year’s keynote commencement speaker,” said Dean Kenneth Chance. “I have no doubt her invaluable insights and knowledge of the profession will leave a lasting impression on our graduates as they embark on the next chapter of their journey.”

In her early 20s, Alston discovered her passion for providing the community with integral oral health care support—setting out to be the dentist she never had growing up. Now, she serves as the 97th president of the NDA, whose mission is to promote oral health equity among people of color by harnessing the collective power of its members, advocating for the needs of and mentoring dental students of color, and raising the profile of the profession in our communities. 

Throughout her leadership career with the organization, she served as a delegate, trustee, vice president and president-elect, before ascending to the presidency. 

Alston spent her clinical career in the dental safety net, holding positions as staff dentist and dental director in correctional health care, public hospital and federally qualified health center settings. She is currently the lead oral health specialist for the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Job Corps health support contractor. Additionally, she is a volunteer associate health science professor at University of California San Francisco School of Dentistry, where she was previously the Student National Dental Association chapter advisor. 

Alston graduated from the University of California San Francisco with degrees in bachelor’s of science and Doctor of Dental Surgery.  She earned her undergraduate degree in economics and a master’s in public policy from the University of California at Berkeley.  

She is past-president of the UCSF Dental Alumni Association and the Alameda County Dental Society, as well as the past-chair of the Northern California Section of the American College of Dentists. Her areas of expertise include motivational interviewing, early oral care and oral health literacy. She has been a lead author of articles published in peer-reviewed journals, including her latest article, “Lifting up the Voices of the Unheard Patient,” which appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of the Journal of the American College of Dentists. Alston also serves as a reviewer for the Journal of the California Dental Association. 

Among her awards are the UCSF School of Dentistry’s Medal of Honor, the UCSF Campaign Award for Compassion, induction into the Alameda County Women’s Hall of Fame for Health, the New York University School of Dentistry’s Michael Alfano Award for Diversity, UC Berkeley’s Public Health Heroes Award, fellowship in the American College of Dentists and selection to the Berkeley Fellows. She is also a Fellow in the American College of Dentists and Pierre Fauchard Society.  She completed the California Health Care Foundation’s Leadership Fellowship Program.

Alston is a native of Oakland, California. Locally, she serves on the City of Oakland Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Distributors’ Tax Community Advisory Board. She has also served as the Secretary of the Commonwealth Club of California, the nation’s premier public affairs forum based in San Francisco.