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Photo from ASDA and Caught in the Moment Photography

Third-year School of Dental Medicine student, Roopali Kulkarni, was elected as the 2018-19 president of the American Student Dental Association on Feb. 26.

The ASDA is a national student-led organization with over 24,000 members that holds meetings throughout the year for students to network and receive education on issues currently challenging dentistry. ASDA acknowledges excellent work of individual students and chapters with awards.

Kulkarni said ASDA also has an important role in advocating for student rights.  

“[ASDA] originated to really empower students to stand up in school settings against their administration or outside parties that might threaten their rights as a student," Kulkarni said. 

“As the national president, it’s my responsibility to be the official spokesperson for the organization, to represent us to outside organizations, to dental professionals and to really help unite the voices of students across the country," she added.  

Kulkarni has already been active in the dental student community, especially regarding wellness.  

She co-founded the Penn Dental Happiness Project, which promotes emotional and mental health for dental students under pressure. Coupled with this, she served as an ASDA board trustee for her represented district, according to the ASDA website. “I actually started out as one of the wellness co-chairs at the local chapter, and that’s what got me into ASDA,” Kulkarni said.  

Roopali Kulkarni stands alongside her fellow elected members of ASDA's executive committee. From left: Jeffrey Kerst, vice president (Louisiana ’19), Roopali Kulkarni, president (Pennsylvania ’19), Nancy Honeycutt, executive director (CAE), and Alexandra Howell, vice president (Georgia ’19). // Photo from ASDA and Caught in the Moment Photography

Roopali explained that after arriving at Penn Dental, she discovered that the motivating environment can also be stressful due to workload. “I realized that with the rigor of the curriculum, as well as just the fact that in four years you become a clinician, there are a lot of stressors in our environment," she said.

Roopali said she has contemplated the issue of stress management heavily during her career as a student. She believes that in order to address academic pressures, students themselves must contribute to a healthy work environment along with the cooperation of the administration. 

“We really need to open up dialogue with the administration about how not only our campus in general, but our dental school, is stressful, and we need to really think about how we’re interacting with each other as students," she added. 

Third-year Dental student Austin Labbe spoke about his excitement about the election results. “She handles 800 things at once, never breaks a sweat, incredibly smart, relentlessly willing to help anybody in the class, and constantly positive,” Labbe said. “She shows the same amount of love to the weirdest kid and to the nicest kid.”

Other students discussed their experiences as members of ASDA. 

Fatma Natvi, a second-year dental student, expressed her fondness of ASDA. “It’s a great student organization to get involved in,” she said. “It really helps to learn more about dentistry, to learn more about opportunities, and to connect with dental students from different schools. So, it’s a great way to showcase what students are doing, successes like Roopali’s, and more students like that.”