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Dr. Stephen Pachuta's message from the dean February 2024

Dear fellow alumni and friends of the School of Dentistry,

As February rapidly comes to a close, we are fine-tuning our accreditation preparations. Earlier in the month, we submitted our self-study guides for our programs under review. The self-study guides are just that — our comprehensive review and look at our programs to include what we teach, how we teach, and most importantly how we assess. Our surveyors will use our self-study guide as a road map for their reviews and assessment of programs.

The accreditation process reminds me of a short but rather powerful book on personal freedom. As background, we fondly refer to our running group of “best running friends” as BRFs. Two years ago, one of my BRFs gave me the book “The Four Agreements.” It is a Toltec book of wisdom by Don Miguel Ruiz and is subtitled “A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom.” Around 1000 A.D., the Toltec were known throughout central America as women and men of knowledge. The book is a very quick read; less than 150 pages that resonated. The source and context of the gift was more meaningful than the book itself — both connect with personal meaning.

As I have shared with many of you, when I retired from the Navy I felt somewhat lost and adrift. That “purpose” that I had for 32 years was no longer part of my daily life. I filled the time with a number of activities to include spending time with René, remodeling our home, manicuring the perfect yard, pursuing the formal study of healthcare ethics, and running. Little did I know the significant impact that running, or more importantly the impact of the friendships that I made, would have on my emotional health and well-being. Many in the group had been running together for years, and I was the new guy. They welcomed me with open arms, and our individual and collective friendships blossomed. One BRF in particular was also retired from the Navy. He was a hospital corpsman (medic) who served aboard ships and deployed with the Marines in Afghanistan. Although we had never served together, we had many connections and similar duty stations and experiences. We logged many long miles together and shared countless stories about life in the Navy while serving afloat and overseas. Our other BRFs frequently seemed somewhat in awe of the ease and “personal freedom” of our conversations. He is one of the nicest, kindest people you will ever meet. It was he who gave me the book.

Now, back to the Four Agreements. The first agreement is “Be Impeccable with your Word”; this is also the hardest and most challenging of the four agreements. The second is “Don’t Take Anything Personally,” the third is “Don’t Make Assumptions,” and the fourth is “Always Do Your Best.” I believe the “Agreements” can provide direction to our journey and contribute to success in our profession and in our lives. It takes hard work and intense commitment every day to stay somewhat aligned with the four agreements. The Toltec path to freedom highlights that we begin every day with a certain amount of mental, emotional and physical energy to help us get through the day; if we allow our emotions to deplete our energy, we do not have the energy to change our lives, or more importantly, to serve others.

I think the “Four Agreements” provides a thoughtful way to approach our on-site accreditation visit — impeccable word, take nothing personally, don’t assume, and do your best. Our faculty, staff and students are excited to tell our story — the story of our school of dentistry, our University and our great State of West Virginia.

March 20 is Day of Giving at West Virginia University. Stay tuned and follow our social media engagements and announcements as to how you can make a difference in the lives of our students. Scholarship will be our primary focus for this year’s Day of Giving. Please consider making a gift to support our students in their academic endeavors.

Lead well at every engagement. Thank you for all you do for our School and especially for our students and those entrusted to our care.

Warmest regards,

Stephen Pachuta