AUGUSTA, Ga. – Dr. Connie L. Drisko, former Dean of the College of Dental Medicine at Georgia Regents University, died Sunday at Georgia Regents Medical Center after a short battle with acute myelogenous leukemia.
Drisko became the college’s third dean in 2003. During her tenure, she oversaw construction of a new state-of-the-art clinical facility, one of the largest of its kind in the country, which opened in 2011 with 316 clinical operatories, simulation labs, and clinics for junior and senior dental students. The expansion allowed for the number of dental students in a class to grow from 60 to 84 and will allow for continued growth to 100.
Under Drisko’s leadership, the college twice received full accreditation by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association and has been nationally recognized for student diversity programs that prepare under-represented minority and low-income students for dental practice. In 2012, Drisko was awarded GRU’s inaugural employee Diversity Award for promoting and enhancing diversity among students, faculty, and students since she became Dean. The award recognized her sustained commitment to diversity and inclusiveness at the university.
Her successor, Dr. Carol Lefebvre, served as Associate and Vice Dean under Drisko for seven years.
“Connie’s passion for the College of Dental Medicine and dentistry in the state of Georgia was evident to everyone she met,” Lefebvre said. “She poured her heart and life into getting us into this new building, and it stands as a monument to her tireless efforts. The CDM has lost a dear friend.”
More than a building, Drisko envisioned dental programs that helped the school focus on expanded outreach and increase its renown in research and specialty dentistry. In recent years, the college established an Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency program; opened an interdisciplinary Center for Esthetic and Implant Dentistry; expanded its global outreach to China, Peru, France, Italy, and Africa; extended student rotations and patient care regional outreach to 27 dental clinic sites in 12 Georgia cities; and increased average annual faculty and student research by more than 40 percent.
“Connie was an energetic and tenacious leader, a force to be reckoned with in every sense of the phrase,” said GRU President Ricardo Azziz. “Her colleagues nicknamed her the White Tornado, a reference to her white hair and Oklahoma roots but really a tribute to her amazing ability to get things done. We mourn this great loss to the GRU community, and we will long celebrate the impact she had on the dental profession, this university, and the people we serve.”
After 10 years serving as Dean of the College of Dental Medicine, Drisko left her leadership position on June 30, 2013. She moved to a new role in the Office of Advancement, continuing to raise support for the dental school, the construction of the J. Harold Harrison, M.D. Education Commons building, and other university endeavors, and co-directing the Executive Leadership Academy.
“Dr. Drisko led the College of Dental Medicine through a remarkable period of growth,” said GRU Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Gretchen Caughman. “She was a remarkable leader, and an unwavering advocate for dentistry and dental education. Connie’s extraordinary spirit will be greatly missed.”
Prior to joining GRU, Drisko was Associate Dean for Research, Associate Dean for Academic Planning and Faculty Development, and Director of the Dental Education and Research Center at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry in Louisville, Ky. She had previously served as Associate Professor of Periodontics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and as a Clinical Dental Hygiene Instructor at Tyler Junior College in Texas and at the University of Oklahoma.
Drisko was a practicing dental hygienist for 16 years before earning a dental degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1980. She received her certification in general practice dentistry from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., then a periodontics certificate from the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leavenworth, Kan. She was a member of the Omicron Kappa Upsilon Honor Society.
She chaired the American Dental Education Association Women’s Advisory and Legislative Advisory committees, was a longtime member of the Dean’s Council and the Gies Board of Trustees and was faculty for the organization’s Leadership Institute.
Drisko was a member of the American Dental Association’s Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations and the Georgia Society of Periodontists Executive Committee; a Diplomate and former Director and Chair of the American Board of Periodontology; and a Fellow of the American College of Dentists, the International College of Dentists, the Pierre Fauchard Academy, and the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine program.
She served on the Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia and the CSRA Board of Directors and received the 2011 Woman of Distinction Award from the Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia.
Drisko is survived by her husband, Dr. Richard Drisko; a step-daughter, Julie Gardner, and her husband, Marc, of Frisco, Texas; a sister, Carol Barr of Wichita, Kan.; two granddaughters, Kristin Longstaff (husband, Travis) and Cara Gardner, all of Frisco, Texas; and five nieces and nephews.
A private family service and burial will be held this week. A memorial service for friends and extended family is being planned for September. Thomas Poteet & Son Funeral Directors on Davis Road in Augusta, Ga., is in charge of arrangements.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made in Connie Drisko’s memory to the Georgia Health Sciences Foundation, 1120 15th Street, FI-1000, Augusta, GA 30912. Funds will be used to support the College of Dental Medicine’s pediatric dentistry outreach programs and other efforts related to the oral health needs of children.