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Elena Dent, PhD, is the new assistant dean of The Graduate School at Augusta University. Dent, who began her role this month, is also the director of the First Year PhD in Biomedical Sciences Program.

New assistant dean sees great potential for growth at Augusta University, The Graduate School

Elena Dent, PhD, originally set out to be a communications journalism major. She then took a physiology course and was fascinated by its study and research opportunities.

After years of overcoming her own educational and personal obstacles, Dent said she is proud to join Augusta University as assistant dean of The Graduate School. According to Dean Jennifer Sullivan, PhD, her work will directly align with the university’s Strategic Plan on increasing enrollment and increasing the research presence.

Dent, who started her role in January, previously was an assistant professor in preventive medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi, where her primary focus was education with an emphasis on nutrition for graduate and medical education. She was involved in curriculum design as well as the implementation for nutrition, lifestyle medicine and renal physiology.

“I am excited about working with a diverse group of people. From students just starting their graduate school journey to staff and faculty, The Graduate School is home to many backgrounds,” said Dent, who is also the First Year program director for the Biomedical Sciences PhD Program. “I enjoy getting to know people, gaining insight into their passions and goals, and advocating on their behalf when possible.”

Sullivan, who has been the First Year program director since 2017, also served as interim dean for the past 1½ years before taking over permanently in December 2021. During that time, the request for an assistant dean was made to help alleviate and balance the workload.

“The First Year program director works closely with the incoming biomed students to help acclimate them to AU and the research environment, as well as serving as the course director for all of the research-based courses and oversees the core curriculum,” Sullivan said. “I had struggled as a faculty member to balance all of these roles, but as interim dean, it became even more challenging. In addition, since the Biomedical Sciences PhD Program is both academically and administratively housed in TGS, there were numerous demands on the staff to meet the needs of that program, while also serving the wider TGS community.

“The Biomedical Sciences PhD Program and postdoctoral fellows are the workforce for the Medical College of Georgia,” Sullivan added. “Having a vibrant biomed program and strong support for fellows will increase our ability to attract the best and brightest trainees. Dr. Dent’s work also aligns with our strategic priorities of student success, learning, discovery, and community. Her addition to our team will enhance our ability to meet the growing needs of both the university and our students.”

After Dent earned her degree in food science, nutrition and health promotion, Dent decided she wanted to apply that clinically. She worked for several years as a registered dietitian specializing in patients with diabetes in both inpatient and outpatient settings. After conversations about research with patients, she wanted to understand research better.

Shortly after making the decision to further her education and getting married, Dent had a hemiplegic migraine that manifested itself as a stroke. She lost function on the left side of her body for months and had to relearn how to do simple tasks such as walking.

While challenging, the obstacle helped Dent better relate to students, she said.

“Before that, I never questioned my academic ability, because I could read something and grasp it and move on. After this event, I had to work three times as hard and figure out a new way to study because what I was used to just didn’t work for me anymore,” Dent said. “I think that humbled me and helped me appreciate that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning. What works for one person might not work for another and that is OK!”

Dent said she has educated patients of all ages and literacy levels in a clinical setting as well as higher education and she has found that people want to be heard and know someone is in their corner. 

Sullivan said when they launched the national search, Dent’s résumé had a unique background that aligned not only with AU’s biomedical sciences program but also with the graduate programs in the College of Allied Health Science.

“She is a registered dietitian with a strong background in nutrition, and she had directly relevant experience in graduate programming and mentoring, as well as a passion for student wellness,” Sullivan said. “Her ideas on how to improve the training opportunities for our students resonated with the search committee and her desire to help improve the overall student experience resonated with the team in The Graduate School.”

Sullivan said Dent hit the ground running at the beginning of the new year. She is working to meet the students and faculty in the biomed program and learn about their experiences and needs. Sullivan also noted that The Graduate School conducted an external review of the biomed program in August 2022 and Dent is going through the report to identify key areas where her skill set will help them improve on the program.

“I invite students and faculty to come see me, talk to me, and let me get to know you,” said Dent, who also said she sees many opportunities for interdisciplinary education and cross collaboration. “I am your advocate, and I will do my best to make sure we meet each other’s expectations through open communication.”

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Written by
Miguelangelo Hernandez

Miguelangelo Hernandez is a senior communications and media coordinator at Augusta University. You can reach him at mighernandez@augusta.edu or (706) 993-6411.

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man smiling Written by Miguelangelo Hernandez

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

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