At every RSDM White Coat Ceremony, alumnus Dr. Anthony Volpe is there, personally greeting each student and making a promise. “I’m going to remember your name,’’ Volpe, 85, tells them. “I want to see you when you graduate.’’
The gesture springs from a desire to be the mentor Volpe would have liked as a member of the Class of ’60, RSDM’s first graduating class. “If I were a student today, I’d want somebody talking to me who has already gone through the process,’’ he says.
Since his own graduation from The Seton Hall College of Medicine & Dentistry, the original name of RSDM, Volpe has offered more than advice to students and faculty. He has helped create educational programs and fund the construction of several capital projects. In 2001, he created a scholarship program for excellence in periodontics that is awarded to fourth year-students.
His latest gift to the school is an endowed scholarship to advance the career of economically disadvantaged students, funded with a donation of $100,000 on behalf of himself and his wife, Marlene M. Volpe.
The award, called the Anthony R. Volpe DDS MS Endowed Scholarship, will be given annually to a third-year pre-doctoral student who ranks in the top 25 percent of his or her class and is in need of financial aid.
“Learning dentistry is becoming more complex and the students of today are exceptional. I’m very proud of them,’’ says Volpe, who for 50 years worked for Colgate-Palmolive as head of Global and Scientific Affairs. “But they face the high cost of dental education, and they come out with a significant debt level which causes them to look for opportunities other than internships and residency programs. That’s a big reason my wife and I became interested in dental education.’
He adds, “I was fortunate enough to receive a dental education that gave me all the successes I’ve had in life. It’s an incentive to give back.’’
Although his journey to dental school contrasts starkly with today’s typical RSDM student — Volpe attended school on the GI Bill after serving as an Army lieutenant during the Korean War — he feels a sense of kinship with many.
“For the majority, English is their second language and I say to myself, ‘Tony, English was your second language, too,’’ he explains.
The son of Italian immigrants, Volpe grew up in Newark’s North Ward, where he had a 45-minute walk to school each day and shot the breeze with hometown boys Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, who were from the same neighborhood.
After graduating from RSDM, he opened a dental practice in Nutley and taught oral pathology at Fairleigh-Dickenson University School of Dentistry before joining Colgate-Palmolive, where he worked until his 2012 retirement.
At Colgate, Volpe conducted studies on the efficacy of certain types of fluoride and other compounds that would become active ingredients in the brand’s products. He also studied incidents of dental caries around the globe and dedicated himself to prevention efforts. Before that, he co-created the Volpe-Manhold Index, a now-standard method of measuring dental calculus.
At RSDM, Volpe has been an invaluable resource. He helped establish the New Horizons program, which introduces students to careers that transcend private practice, such as performing clinical studies for companies like Colgate and working in military and forensic dentistry. He has been a generous supporter of the school, donating money and time to fund RSDM’s Oral Health Pavilion in Newark, its interdisciplinary clinic and other projects and programs. In 2015, he was inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni. He is a familiar sight at school events, where he cheerfully mingles with students, staff and faculty.
“Our school would not be what it is today without the dedication, generosity and warmth of Dr. Tony Volpe,’’ said Dean Cecile A. Feldman. “He has enriched every facet of RSDM, from his support for our students, the development of our clinical facilities to our academic and research programs. Every time he visits, he brings his love for the profession and an ability to connect with students in a remarkably genuine and caring way. We so deeply appreciate everything he has done.’’