Visiting scholar kicks off partnership between UB dental school and Rīga Stradiņš University

Anete Vaškevica.

During Anete Vaškevica's time in Buffalo, dental school faculty members showed her around Western New York and included a trip to Niagara Falls. 

Release Date: January 18, 2024

In the research lab of Omer Gokcumen and Stefan Ruhl, School of Dental Medicine in Foster Hall. Photographer: Douglas Levere.

Stefan Ruhl

Mirdza Neiders.

Mirdza Neiders

"I sponsored this visiting scholar because I want to make sure the interactions between Latvian dentists and those at UB continue for years to come."
Mirdza Neiders, Distinguished Teaching Professor Emerita
School of Dental Medicine, University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. --- When Anete Vaškevica, a lecturer of conservative dentistry and oral health at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) in Latvia, visited the University at Buffalo in September, it marked the beginning of a new partnership.

The hope for the partnership, between the School of Dental Medicine and RSU’s school of dental medicine, is to encourage exchanges of faculty and students and create opportunities to develop joint research projects.

“Anete, who is a mid-career periodontist, came as a pioneer to observe our teaching and research methodology,” said Stefan Ruhl, professor of oral biology who served as the interim dean of the dental school during 2022 and spring of 2023. He was one of four UB delegates, including UB President Satish Tripathi, who signed a formal memorandum of understanding with RSU in April.

Vaškevica’s visit was followed by a virtual meeting in November between leaders of both institutions to discuss opportunities for future interactions, especially in the areas of oral biology, oral diagnostic sciences, periodontics, and endodontics.

“While she was here, Anete interacted with some 70 members of the dental school, attended lectures, and later shared what she learned with her colleagues and dean in Latvia,” Ruhl said. “She was so impressed with UB and the city that she told us she agreed with the Reader’s Digest 2023 assessment of Buffalo as the nicest place in America.”

Located in northeastern Europe, Latvia is the middle of the three Baltic states. Once part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the country gained independence in 1990, and was admitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European Union in 2004. Rīga Stradiņš University, which has five schools of medical science including dentistry, is the only university in Latvia that has traditionally been integrated into the nation’s health care system.

“UB has had unofficial interactions with Riga for the past 30 years, soon after the Iron Curtain fell,” said Mirdza Neiders, Distinguished Teaching Professor Emerita in UB’s dental school and a Latvian native who sponsored Vaškevica’s visit.

UB’s School of Management and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences established partnerships with schools in Riga years ago, spearheaded by Voldermars Innus, retired UB vice president and chief information officer.

In the early 1990s, Innus, who is also of Latvian nationality, decided to create a Western-style business school at Riga Technical University when the Soviet Union broke up, Neiders said. For his efforts, Innus was awarded the Order of the Three Stars, Latvia’s highest state award, for distinguished and longstanding service to the country.

Neiders, who turned 90 last year, retired from UB in 2018 after serving as an oral pathologist in the dental school for 56 years. She said she wants to expand UB’s connection to Latvia, where she spent her early childhood, before the Soviet and German invasions. She immigrated with her family to the United States in 1950.

“I sponsored this visiting scholar because I want to make sure the interactions between Latvian dentists and those at UB continue for years to come,” she said. “Anete’s visit was a good start.”

Benefits of the partnership include a potential influx of students at UB from Latvia, joint research projects and exchanges of information, Neiders said.

“It also will encourage more research in growing areas of dentistry, such as digital dentistry and dental tissue engineering,” said Neiders, adding that in Latvia, dentistry has traditionally been a women’s profession.

“While more men are entering the profession now in Latvia, the country’s dental schools don’t have the 50/50 split between male and female students that you see in the United States. With this partnership, both institutions can provide more opportunities to students and faculty who want to advance in the oral health professions.” 

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