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Pre-dental students look to art to perfect future smiles

Sep 26, 2017
A student makes jewelry.
Pre-dental student Parham Karimi works on a project in a jewelry-making class at Herron. The class allows him to work with hand tools similar to ones he will use in the dental field.Photo by Liz Kaye, IU Communications

That unmistakable sound of a small hand drill revving up can make any molar shake in fear, no matter if the setting is a dentist’s chair or the Herron School of Art and Design.

For IUPUI pre-dental students, the path to drilling teeth takes some of them through Andrea Jackson’s jewelry-making class, housed in Eskenazi Hall. Students make sculptural and wearable works of art from sheet copper and other metals, but it’s the manual dexterity and training an eye for details that bring in future dentists.

“They have a chance to work with tools in here that they’re also going to work with in the field,” said Jackson, who has been an adjunct instructor at Herron for 10 years. “They’re learning in an artistic environment, so it’s a different way of learning.”

Description of the following video:

[Video: IUPUI Presents bug appears over shots of students working in a jewelry class.]

Andrea Jackson speaks: I approached the dental school and approached Medical, and ever since then, we’ve had a really good, steady stream of people coming through. It’s great for their dexterity, great for their craftsmanship. I’ve done a lot of letters of recommendation.

[Video: A drill is being used to cut through a small sheet of copper.]

Parham Karimi speaks: So far, the experience has been good because in general this course needs you to be patient – the first thing – and after that you have to be accurate, too.

[Video: A piece of copper is cut out of a sheet.]

Shalyn Major speaks: So right now, I’m using a jewelry saw and just a little blade to cut out this sheet metal. A C-clamp and stuff. Sometimes we use little files and things, sandpaper, to make everything smooth.

Jackson speaks: They have a chance to work with tools in here that they are going to work with in the field. They’re not completely different tools. I think that’s very helpful to them. They’re learning it in an artistic environment so it’s a different way of learning for them.

[Words appear: IUPUI Fulfilling the Promise,]

[End of transcript]

A recent class found pre-dental biology juniors Shalyn Major and Parham Karimi sawing away at small sheets of copper. While this is a beginning class, Jackson already has her students learning how to work with small things – and precisely. Major said jewelry-making has already been a welcome complement to her chosen field of study.

“My PREPs (Pre-Professional & Career Preparation) advisor told me it would be a good idea to work on dexterity and craftsmanship, and that it would look good on a resume,” Major said.

Karimi used pliers to hold a small letter “A” that will be a part of a larger work of Faravahar, an ancient Persian symbol. He fired up a flexible drill to puncture the metal. He changed the drill bits with ease and got to work. Years from now, Karimi will be doing the same steps while filling a cavity. Later this semester, he’ll be learning casting, which he might recall when making future tooth impressions.

“It helps you to prepare for dental school because of the hands-on experience,” said Karimi, a native of Shiraz, Iran. “It’s going to help me become a successful dentist. In general, this course needs you to be patient, first, and after that, you have to be accurate. It teaches you to be patient, accurate and work on the details.” 

Karimi and Major feel comfortable with the technical side, and they are working on the artistic side. 

“I took some art classes in high school, but art was never my forte,” Major said. “It’s been kinda cool to work with my hands, even if my art doesn’t look as good as some of the Herron kids’ does.”

Art with a bite

This section of Jackson’s class has about 20 students. Currently, it’s a mix of students gaining elective credits as well as Herron students. Jackson said her class was almost exclusively pre-dental and pre-medical students before the class was given as an art credit. Today, Jackson’s classes are more of a mix, but pre-dental students still sign up, and she still writes letters of recommendation for her skilled future dentists.

A student makes jewelry making class at Herron
Pre-dental student Shalyn Major works on a project in a jewelry-making class at Herron to practice with hand tools. Photo by Liz Kaye, IU Communications

For their first project, Major and Karimi were creating larger pendant pieces that combine the technical side with composition. Students were hammering circles out of molds and using torches to fuse pieces.

Major concocted a pineapple pendant, a favorite fruit of the Jasper native.

“It’s going to be three layers on top of each other,” she said. “Right now, I’m using a jewelry saw and a little blade to cut out the sheet metal and a C-clamp. We use files and sandpaper to make everything smooth.” 

Drill skills

Karimi predicts Jackson’s class will help him as he advances through the Indiana University School of Dentistry. After earning an engineering degree from Shiraz University in Iran, he came to IUPUI to complete his career shift.

Major has biology lab classes and sees jewelry-making helping her in those prerequisite classes as well.

“We used pipettes, and I noticed I was a little shaky,” Major said. “I’m hoping this class will help stabilize my hands along with focusing on things that are really, really small – like teeth.”

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