GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) The ECU School of Dental Medicine has received a $3.2 million grant to continue its Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students program, funding scholarships for economically disadvantaged students over the next five years.

The grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is a renewal of a similar award in 2016.

The grant continuation provides opportunities for the school to increase the recruitment, retention, and graduation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including underrepresented minority students, who will eventually practice as primary care dentists in underserved areas of North Carolina.

“The scholarship program is exactly in alignment with our school’s mission,” said Dr. Margaret Wilson, vice dean of the School of Dental Medicine. “HRSA has been wonderful in their support of us.”

The number of scholarships awarded through the grant will vary depending on the number of eligible students who apply, said Dr. Wanda Wright, project director, assistant professor and division director of dental public health at the School of Dental Medicine. 

Students must apply for the scholarship each year, so some might receive the scholarship all four years while others might receive it for one, two or three years.

For some students with talent, potential and the desire to serve, cost is the biggest barrier to an education in the health sciences, Wright said.

The School of Dental Medicine uses HRSA guidelines to identify students who meet eligibility criteria for Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students. Priority will be given to students with severe financial need.

Once students are accepted into the dental school, they can apply for the scholarship funding, show that they meet HRSA’s strict program requirements and outline their intent to eventually practice as primary care dentists in one of the state’s areas of need.

Part of the win-win format of the grant, Wright said, is that many of the students who benefit from the scholarships come from rural areas. They, in turn, are familiar with the challenges these areas of the state face and are likely to practice in similar communities.

The ECU School of Dental Medicine also recently received a $3.1 million HRSA grant, directed by Dr. Michael Webb and Dr. Mark Moss, to provide intensive instruction to residents on how to care for patients with special needs.