Alumna expands impact, earns national award

Maren Lenhart, M.P.H.'14, works to improve the oral health of Iowans through the Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation.You don’t have to spend much time with high-energy Maren Lenhart to understand how knowledge gained from the Urbandale, IA, dental office where she worked as a certified dental assistant drove her public health goals.

“I wanted to have a broader impact on oral health care and the opportunity to work in public health,” she says.

Lenhart did just that as a student in DMU’s master’s degree in public health (M.P.H.) program. She received the 2014 Lee Holder Award for Excellence in Graduate Allied Health Education, a national honor of the Alpha Eta Society for the allied health professions.

As part of her degree program, Lenhart took on an unpaid internship with the Iowa Public Health Association. In 2013, when the association and the Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation cofounded Iowans for Oral Health, a coalition that strives to maintain community water fluoridation (CWF) as a public health benefit, she became its project coordinator. She addressed threats to CWF and worked with communities to apply for funding from the Delta Foundation’s CWF grant program. She also gave numerous presentations around the state.

“Maren became a conduit of information between the department, our stakeholders and communities,” says Bob Russell, D.D.S., M.P.H., public health dental director and chief of the Bureau of Oral and Health Delivery Systems of the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH). “She allowed us to diversify our ability to be in multiple places around the state.”

For her required M.P.H. capstone project, Lenhart became an oral health consultant with the Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation, the charitable organization funded by Delta Dental of Iowa. She researched and analyzed data surrounding oral health access for aging Iowans and children. She also reviewed oral health education and prevention programs and produced a proposal to enhance the foundation’s school-based dental sealant program.

Her efforts, along with $170,000 from the foundation and collaboration with IDPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, established 11 new sealant programs in underserved schools and expanded those services from five to 32 counties. “It was great to see the funding have a larger impact and improve access to care,” she says.

Amid all this activity, Lenhart served two years as treasurer of the DMU M.P.H. Student Club, for which she helped plan networking events for M.P.H. students and public health professionals.

“Because so much of the M.P.H. program is delivered online, we are always looking for ways in which to help the distance students feel connected to the University, so efforts such as Maren’s are always greatly appreciated,” says College of Health Sciences (CHS) Dean Jodi Cahalan, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S., PA-C, DFFAAPA. When Lenhart graduated from DMU in May 2014, Cahalan presented her with the CHS Dean’s Leadership Award. And when Lenhart received the Lee Holder Award on Oct. 22, during the annual conference of the Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions, it also was presented by Cahalan, president of the national Alpha Eta Board.

Now a public benefit planning analyst with the Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation, Lenhart continues to conduct research, evaluate programs, counsel grant-seekers and facilitate communications regarding oral health.

“Every day presents new opportunities for me to utilize my public health education,” she says. “It is rewarding seeing the results of programs over time and to collaborate with other stakeholders that want to improve oral health and overall health.”

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