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An Interview with Daniel Alter, MSc, MDT, CDT
Having successfully integrated a standalone CAD/CAM technology course into the core curriculum of an existing dental technology program, Daniel Alter, professor at New York City College of Technology, CUNY, hopes to help others do the same.
Inside Dental Technology (IDT): As an educator and master dental technician, what challenges do the industry’s accredited dental technology educational programs face today?
Dan Alter (DA): We as educators must recognize the fact that new relevancies in our industry are changing the definition of a formally educated and competent dental technician. The goal of our accredited programs is to produce productive dental professionals who, upon graduation, are able to enter the workforce and contribute to the benefit of the profession. The core curriculum of our current programs does an excellent job of teaching the solid foundational principles upon which this industry has been built. However, the emergence and impact of technology into laboratory production processes and the growth and acceptance of implant dentistry cannot be ignored. The critical core knowledge being taught today by our schools must also expand to align with current relevancies in the modern dental practice and dental technology business.
IDT: You are a strong and vocal advocate for building a CAD/CAM curriculum as an integral component to the core technical courses being taught in dental technology educational programs. What progress have you made in the past two years?
DA: Here at the New York City College of Technology dental technology program we have fully integrated a CAD/CAM course into the core curriculum of our two-year program. Students are taught and experience digital workflow from the beginning to the end product. I firmly believe that the solid core principles and competencies that we have always taught in an analog fashion can be extended and taught in a digital environment. I teach from the approach of creating professionals who can implement creative thinking and solve problems, which is the true benefit of formal education, helping create the future leaders, innovators, and decision makers. The profession’s future!
IDT: How does this new course curriculum benefit students and the profession?
DA: The needs of the industry have changed immensely over the past five years. Laboratory owners, once seeking to hire employees for analog positions, now need productive computer operators who possess the technical knowledge of a highly educated and skilled technician. This was one of the drivers that set me on the quest to create a program that would help fill this void in our profession. For dental technology graduates, possessing both technical and CAD/CAM workflow knowledge makes them more valuable and relevant as employees right out of school and affords them a higher salary than in the past. For laboratory owners, the possibility to hire a skilled, formally trained CAD/CAM technician rather than lose production time by training an existing employee or hiring a computer savvy person with no dental technology knowledge is very appealing. Manufacturers and distributors can now gain access to technological and digital knowledgeable people for their sales, technical/customer support employees.
I have also acquired a CUNY workforce development grant which will allow me to offer CAD/CAM night and weekend continuing education courses, beginning in January 2015, for unemployed, underemployed, or displaced technicians wanting to learn the technology or for laboratory owners who want to train an existing employee but don’t want to lose production time in the laboratory.
IDT: Where do you go from here?
DA: I want to help other dental technology educational programs, accredited, non-accredited, private, or manufacturer-driven set up a similar course curriculum. We must recognize and face the fact that our educational programs are currently in crisis. Integrating a CAD/CAM curriculum, I believe, will help attract and produce a new breed of dental technician fully prepared to be viable contributors to the profession and become the future innovators who will move this profession forward.
IDT: Are there ways the industry can be supportive and help other dental technology programs achieve the success NYCCT has?
DA: Anyone who has a stake in this industry and is concerned about the future of this profession should and must get involved. We encourage everyone, laboratory owners, manufacturers, associations to help by donating equipment and/or consumable materials, gifts in kind, financial donations, inviting enrolled students to the laboratory or manufacturer site to see first-hand the equipment in operation, visit a program and share your knowledge. Many friends of formal education have done just that, but there is still more room for others to get involved. Giving back by contributing will ensure a viable future for our beloved industry.