Dentistry students at West Virginia University who demonstrate a commitment to compassionate care will benefit from the generosity of an alumnus who found a supportive family atmosphere at the School of Dentistry and his wife who leads a WVU health care studies program.
More than 36 years ago, Dr. Moe Momen came to West Virginia from his native Iran to start a new life. He began classes at WVU just a week later, starting with English and linguistics classes to build upon the basics he learned in high school. He and his wife, Dr. Jennifer Momen, who leads the School of Medicine’s Physician Assistant Studies program, are creating an endowed scholarship fund for School of Dentistry students.
The Momens wanted to support students who show empathy and strive to help because they care — a key aspect of dentistry that is not always assessed through academic coursework or exams. Each year, their $100,000 gift will provide graduate scholarships to two fourth-year students who demonstrate a commitment to compassionate care.
“In practicing dentistry you’re treating people who may be dealing with issues unrelated to their dental problem,” Moe Momen said. “It’s important to show that you understand what they’re going through. Having compassion is important.”
Mentors at WVU and beyond emphasized the value of compassionate care and importance of giving back for Momen. As he considered whether to pursue dentistry or medicine, he was inspired while shadowing Dr. Frank Oliverio, an oral surgeon in Bridgeport, West Virginia, about 40 minutes southwest of Morgantown. Later, he appreciated the nurturing environment he discovered within the School of Dentistry. In particular, attending dentists Dr. Jerry Bouquot, clinical professor and oral pathologist, and Dr. Robert Wanker, clinical professor and assistant dean of student and alumni affairs, were always willing to devote extra time to help Momen and other students excel.
“Faculty who are so dedicated really inspire you to be successful in your career,” Moe Momen said. “I hope that, through this scholarship, I will be able to inspire students to strive for excellence in their future practice.”
Jennifer Momen said students need to know that alumni and faculty are invested in their success.
“I think we don’t always reward students based on the quality of their interaction with patients,” she said. “We hope this scholarship will recognize students who demonstrate tolerance, respect and compassion in the clinical setting.”
Moe Momen eventually opted to specialize in pediatric dentistry because the field offered opportunities to expand beyond dentistry while still helping his patients feel better quickly. Plus, children make his work fun.
He met his wife — a pediatrician by training — at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where they both did their residencies. Though she’s originally from Buffalo, New York, she enjoyed spending time in West Virginia. The couple settled in the Bridgeport area, where Moe Momen treats a few thousand patients — ranging from a few months old to college age — at his solo practice.
Over the years, graduating from WVU has become a family tradition. Jennifer Momen — who also has degrees from the University of Virginia and State University of New York at Buffalo — earned a master’s degree in public health from the School of Public Health in 2016. Several nieces, nephews and other relatives have attended, and the Momens’ daughter, Sarah, is now a junior majoring in exercise physiology.
Though Moe Momen’s dental practice keeps him busy, he said it’s important to give back to WVU one way or another:
“You have to take an initiative. People can do a lot more than they think they can. (G)iving is an amazing feeling,” he continued.
WVU School of Dentistry Dean Anthony “Tom” Borgia said he’s grateful for generous alumni and supporters like the Momens.
“Philanthropic support is critical to the School of Dentistry,” Borgia said. “Many of our programs and services are available thanks to our donors. That includes scholarships that empower our students to embark on their careers and be financially successful. Our graduates recognize how important those gifts are, and we rely on them to carry on that tradition.”
The Momens’ gift was made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University.
Individuals and businesses interested in supporting the School of Dentistry should contact Director of Development Karen Coombs at 304-293-1868 or firstname.lastname@example.org.