The new dean of Columbia's College of Dental Medicine, a leading expert on the human response to pain, is ready to listen.
Christian Stohler, the dean of the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, had his first talk with faculty on Thursday after being appointed last week.
“I would like to honor the unique culture of Columbia,” he said in an interview earlier this week. Listening to faculty, he said, would be one of his main priorities as dean.
Stohler added that he felt it was important to be open-minded and understand “what the institution feels about the future.”
Stohler said he admired the University’s leadership and felt that Columbia’s current administrators are “really leaders that have a bold vision for the future.”
“It’s wonderful to be part of that,” Stohler said.
In addition, Stohler hopes to encourage students to provide input and serve as leaders.
“I’m a student dean. I love the students,” hesaid. “Columbia gets absolutely spectacular students.”
Academically, Stohler said Columbia’s program is advanced in that it integrates the fields of dentistry and medicine. When he started at the University of Maryland, there was no relationship between the fields.
Current diseases affecting the country such as obesity, diabetes, and chronic illnesses make the connection especially relevant, Stohler said.
“Columbia is blessed to have done the transition,” he said.
At Maryland, Stohler updated and enhanced the school’s curriculum, led construction of digital academic and clinical facilities on campus, and helped integrate dental services into the Health Center on the College Park campus, University President Lee Bollinger said in his announcement last week. He "elevated the School of Dentistry’s global prominence in academics and patient care and oversaw an expansion that made it the largest public dental school in the nation,” Bollinger added.
Stohler, who earned his DMD and Dr.Med.Dent degrees from the University of Bern in Switzerland and spent more than 20 years as a professor at the University of Michigan, has helped lead research funded by the National Institutes of Health on the human response to pain. He was also part of the team that showed that if a person believes a placebo will reduce pain, he or she experiences a corresponding reduction in pain.
Professors are looking forward to Stohler’s appointment. George White, the director of Columbia’s division of prosthodontics, said that he was impressed by Stohler’s efforts to digitize the University of Maryland.
“He’s shown that he can run and take a school to another level,” White said, adding that Columbia is a “very traditional type of school” that could benefit from a more digital focus.
“I’ve followed him since he was at Michigan and, you know, he’s done a lot,” White, who studied at Michigan, said.
Dental medicine and epidemiology professor Athanasios Zavras called Stohler an accomplished scholar with a “great record in advancing dental education."
He thought Stohler could help Columbia engage more with digital technology.
“I think there is an opportunity to expand the use of technology at the college,” Zavras said. “We hope that he will provide valuable insight.”