Achievements & Awards Diversity & Inclusion Staff Students

School honors student, staff member with Ida Gray Awards on annual DEI Day5 min read

February 22, 2024

School honors student, staff member with Ida Gray Awards on annual DEI Day5 min read

Clarence Cochran II and Melanie LaPointe hold plaques commemorating their Ida Gray Awards next to a portrait of Gray. Presenters were Gail Oljace (left), a member of the school’s DEI-MAC, and Dr. Todd Ester, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Ann Arbor, Mich., Feb. 22, 2024 – At its annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Day on Tuesday, the School of Dentistry honored two individuals for their significant contributions to the school’s welcoming and inclusive community of students, faculty, researchers and patients.

Since 1997, the centerpiece of the DEI Day program is a presentation of the Ida Gray Awards to call attention to the school’s longstanding vision and values aimed at celebrating diversity. The award is named for Dr. Ida Gray, the first Black woman in the country to earn a DDS when she graduated from the School of Dentistry in 1890. She was also the first Black woman to practice dentistry in Chicago.

Students, faculty and staff nominate individuals who have contributed to the advancement of diversity and improvement in the climate for work, learning, research and patient care. Award recipients are selected by the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Multicultural Affairs Committee (DEI-MAC).

This year’s honorees announced during the DEI program are:

• Staff member: Melanie LaPointe, a senior administrative assistant in the Dean’s office. A nominator described her as “a strong champion for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging” who demonstrates her commitment to DEI in her daily work and home life. She is recognized as welcoming and respectful of everyone in the school community. Another nominator mentioned that “the smile on her face and her engaging personality truly makes others feel appreciated, heard and engaged. Melanie role-models the culture of DEI daily and we all could benefit from her example.”  LaPointe is credited with helping plan and manage a number school events, including the Pride Month event and the commemoration of Veteran’s Day. In accepting the award, LaPointe said she feels frequent inspiration from Ida Gray.  “My desk is close to the paining of Ida Gray that we have in the Dean’s office and it is a daily reminder for me to continue to promote DEI and treat everyone I meet with respect.”

• Student: Clarence Cochran II, a fourth-year dental student who graduates in May. He is described as “a pillar in our journeys as dental students, serving as a friend, role model and mentor.”  In addition to being a member of the DEI-MAC committee for four years, he served as treasurer for both the U-M chapter of Student National Dental Association (SNDA) and the National Executive Board of SNDA. In these roles, he managed budgets and accounted for member dues, first nationwide and then locally. Said nominators: “We have had the opportunity of seeing Clarence in many different settings – inside and outside of the school – and no matter the situation, Clarence always shows up as a disciplined, kind-hearted, supportive and reliable human being.” In his comments upon receiving the award, Cochran said his approach is to always give back and find ways to support his fellow students. “I live by example and what my former classmate Robert Harvey showed me in how to pour our energy and gifts into every situation. I am truly humbled to receive this award.”

Also during the DEI program, Dr. Todd Ester, Associate Dean for DEI, gave an update on the roll-out of the school’s DEI 2.0 plan, which focuses on the theme of “belonging” as a key component. Ester said developing a school-wide sense of belonging helps provide a feeling of connection and acceptance that is as important as the diversity of the group. More programming and plans will be shared as they are developed over the multi-year initiative.

More information on the school’s DEI initiatives led by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion can be found here.


Previous Recipients of the Ida Gray Award Since Its Inception in 1997

2023 – Todd Brown, Dr. Colonya Calhoun, Brea Fleming
2022 – Vidya Ramaswamy, Robert Harvey III, Dr. Ryan Shinska
2021 – Gail Oljace, Dr. Carlos Gonzalez-Cabezas, Randon Campbell, Dr. Jessica Rickert
2020 – Said Al-Jazaeri, Kim Huner, Dr. Larry Salzmann
2019 – Carl Buchanon II, Dinella Crosby, Dr. Kevin Sloan
2018 – Kelsie Pittel, Hussain Haider, Dr. Shahrzad (Sherry) Mirafzali, Dr. Elliott Hill
2017 – Dr. Kenneth B. May, Carlotta Fantin-Yusta, Teresa Patterson
2016 – Dr. Bonita Neighbors, Guneet Kohli, Dean Laurie McCauley
2015 – Dr. David White, My Yang, Dr. Margherita Fontana
2014 – Scott Ward, John Squires, Isabel C. Castillo
2013 – Jauana Gissendanner, Elizabeth Easter, Wolverine Patriot Project
2012 – Ricardo Lugo, Dr. Henry Temple, Dr. James Lee
2011 – Christinel Dima, Evelyn Lucas-Perry, Dr. Sharon Brooks
2010 – Synthinia Pryor, Javier Johnson, Dr. Preetha Kanjirath
2009 – Dr. Ali Nikoo, Nejay Ananaba, Dean Peter Polverini
2008 – Elizabeth Rodriguez, Joan Anderson, Dr. William Gregory
2007 – Patricia Anderson, Brent Frey, Dr. Marilyn Woolfolk
2006 – Tamanika Terry Stewart, Paul Lopez, Dr. George Taylor
2005 – Diane Nixon, Justin Smith, Dr. Todd Ester
2004 – Patricia Katcher, Erika J. Tyler, Dr. Graham R. Holland
2003 – Cara Voss, Paulta Lloyd, Dean William Kotowicz
2001 – Cheryl Quiney, Damon Watson
2000 – Dr. Emerson Robinson
1999 – Dr. Lisa Tedesco
1998 – Dr. Marita Inglehart
1997 – Dr. Lee Jones


The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral healthcare education, research, patient care and community service.  General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan.  Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies.  Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide.  For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at:  Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communications, at, or (734) 615-1971.