A tribute to Dr. Harvey Schenkein
by Robert Sabatini, D.D.S. M.S. (D.D.S. ’81), as appeared in The Dental Investigator magazine, Vol. 8, 2020 (lightly edited)
As we convene for the first Research Day of the new decade at the VCU School of Dentistry, there seems no better time to celebrate the illustrious career of our past Associate Dean of Research, Harvey Schenkein. Dr. Schenkein has been a fixture in both the Department of Periodontics and the VCU dental research arena since arriving in 1978 from the State University of New York in Buffalo with a Ph.D. in one hand, and a Periodontics Residency Certificate in the other. Both were put to good use as he rose through the ranks to become associate dean for research in 1986, and chairman of the Department of Periodontics in 2005. It would be a simple task to fill the remainder of this program with a list of his awards, publications and professional contributions. However, a more meaningful use of this space would be to simply say thank you for the immense contributions he has made to countless dental and graduate students, residents, and faculty members during his thirty-two (and still counting) years at VCU.
Those of you that have read the long list of titles in Dr. Schenkein’s email signature block may have noticed that he is the Paul Tucker Goad professor at VCU, a distinguished graduate of the dental class of 1925 whose wife created a charity fund and honorary professorship in his memory. Assuming that enough time has passed since the dedication of this professorship to prevent anyone from taking offense, it may be appropriate to change the title “Goad professorship” to “G.O.A.T. professorship” for just this one happy occasion.
Any novice on the subject of modern English knows that the term G.O.A.T is an acronym for “Greatest of All Time” that was introduced in the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2018, along with the far-more ingenious adjective, “hangry.” While most who know Dr. Schenkein would agree that he is arguably the greatest teacher and researcher of “all time,” it may be more appropriate to use the acronym to describe some of his most admirable qualities.
At heart, he is a Golfer, and there is nothing Dr. Schenkein would rather be doing than golfing on a sunny afternoon; not doing research, not mentoring, and definitely not practicing periodontics. And although his handicap does not reflect his love for the game by any stretch of the imagination, his perseverance through the replacement of multiple body parts (HIPPA consented) serves as a testament of his passion for golf.
Then there is his endearing sense of humor, which is often described as Outre by observers that don’t really know him, but as witty, on-point, and ingenious by those who do. In a profession defined by bacterial pathogens, inflammatory periodontal disease and pain, Dr. Schenkein has integrated humor into both his teaching and leadership roles, and has done his part to make the school a happier place for students and faculty alike. So yes, there is something funny about periodontal disease after all.
Schenkein is Adventurous by nature, even though he completed his entire professional education, including two professional degrees and a residency in Buffalo, New York, and then proceeded to spend the next thirty-two years working at his only adult job, here in Richmond. Fortunately for Mrs. Schenkein, his adventurous genes are finally beginning to blossom and the couple has begun to travel the world, near and far.
Above all, Dr. Schenkein is an extraordinary Teacher. With a sharp mind and a gentle soul, he has steered the ship for all dental research in the VCU School of Dentistry and kept VCU in a solid position in research standings among all dental schools in the nation. In addition, he continuously went beyond the call of duty as the Chairman of Periodontics by assuming a full share of coverage in the undergraduate periodontics clinic, and teaching roles in undergraduate, post-graduate, and residency courses throughout the curriculum.
So there you have it, and whether you consider him to be the G.O.A.T. in the field of dental education or a RAM who is a phenomenal teacher with a keen sense of humor who happens to struggle on the golf course, we all share in the debt of gratitude he has earned by his fierce dedication to the students, faculty and staff of the VCU School of Dentistry.