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Idaho State University’s retiring Denise Bowen helped grow ISU dental hygiene program

Posted May 11, 2010

During the 34 years she has spent working at Idaho State University, Professor Emeritus Denise Bowen said she and her department, dental hygiene, grew up a lot.

"I grew up at Idaho State University personally and professionally," said Bowen, who retired this spring and was awarded emeritus status. "I had a lot of great opportunities here and did a lot of different things that taught me a tremendous amount about life, and being an educator in the health sciences."

She said she has always enjoyed her students and will miss them.

Denise Bowen"Our students are the very brightest anyone can teach at the undergraduate level because our program is recognized nationally and the seats in the program are competitive," Bowen said. "They are very motivated and we are lucky to have them."

The ISU dental hygiene program has grown significantly since 1976 when Bowen arrived, and she has played an active part in a significant amount of that expansion. She was chair of the department for 12 years and acting chair for another year. When she came to ISU the program only had three full-time faculty members and a chair. Bowen and her colleagues wrote a grant that doubled the size of the department in the late 1970s.

"From that point on we continued to hire the best faculty we could and have built a program into being recognized internationally and nationally," Bowen said. "I am proud to be a part of it."

Bowen was also involved in helping to write the original proposal for the creation of Idaho State University's dental hygiene online graduate master's program, that will begin its sixth year this fall.

"Mentoring graduate students and young faculty has been one of the most satisfying aspects of my career," Bowen said.

She has also been an active researcher, presenter and writer. Her vitae lists more than 100 professional research presentations and more than 20 papers published in refereed journals. Her best-known research is perhaps being involved with the creation of the "Indicator" toothbrush by Oral-B, which features a blue stripe that fades when the brush needs replacing.

"I feel research adds intellectual vibrancy to the subjects you teach," Bowen said.

She said one of the most interesting aspects of dental hygiene research is that the discipline is moving from looking only at the mouth to looking at how the health of the mouth affects the overall health of the body.

"There's a new paradigm we weren’t even aware of when I started in this field," Bowen said. "We used to think the mouth was separate from the body in a sense, but we now know that gum disease and other oral health issues can affect everything from the incidence of stroke and heart disease and control of diabetes, to the incidents of low-birth-weight premature babies and a variety of immune responses."

Bowen, who received her degrees in dental hygiene from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., has been well recognized within in her field and by her colleagues, active in a wide variety of professional organizations and their related activities, and she has been active in a variety of volunteer community activities during her career at ISU. She received the ISU Outstanding Researcher Award and Professional Achievement Awards from ISU, American Dental Hygienists’ Association and the Idaho Dental Hygienists' Association.

For a three-year period, 1999-2001, Bowen was granted leave from the dental hygiene department and was the Idaho State University Centennial Planning Chair, culminating in the ISU’s 2001 Centennial Celebration, which was held in conjunction with ISU's first-ever capital campaign that raised more than $150 million.

"Being Centennial director was a wonderful opportunity to have a break from my teaching and research and be involved with one the most exciting periods in the history of this University," Bowen said. "It was a fun and exciting opportunity to be part of all the planning of the events, and to see some lasting effects from that 100-year point. I feel really inspired by being part of that and by the generosity demonstrated by so many people and friends of the University."

Though retiring from full-time service at ISU, Bowen hardly seems to be slowing down. Among other plans, she has an appointment at the University of Southern California at the National Center for Dental Hygiene Research to work on building an infrastructure for the expansion of research in the discipline; she will also traveling internationally, sponsored by Proctor and Gamble, as a speaker for the dental hygiene profession; and she is working as a freelance writer for Access magazine published by the American Dental Hygienists' Association.

"I am also hoping to play golf better than I do now and hope to run some whitewater rivers," Bowen said. "I'd also like to spend a lot more time with family and friends."

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About Idaho State University

Idaho State University, a Carnegie-classified doctoral research institution founded in 1901, educates approximately 15,000 students per year in more than 280 programs. It is Idaho’s lead institution in health professions and medical education. Its seven colleges engage in a broad range of innovative research, teaching, and learning in the natural and physical sciences, humanities, performing and visual arts, education, engineering, business, pharmacy, and technology. Visit ISU today at www.isu.edu.