UW News

April 30, 2009

Dentistry names first Pacific Continental Bank diversity scholar

School Of Dentistry

By age 35, Rob Piñón had left his roots in Yakima far behind to work in Hawaii, hike in the Andes, work on a Caribbean cruise line, and study in Chile and Russia. But he felt that something was missing from his life.

As it turned out, the answers lay in two places: dentistry and Yakima.

Piñón, now 40 and a second-year UW School of Dentistry student, has been named the recipient of the first Pacific Continental Bank Partner in Diversity scholarship at the school. The one-year award is given to a student who will seek to address oral health disparities.

That’s Piñón’s aim, and it will take him back to his roots in Eastern Washington after he earns his DDS.

“The plan right now is go back to back to the Yakima area and practice,” he says. “The biggest thing is incorporating community service and reaching out to the people who can’t afford dentistry. I think general practice is the way to go — maybe develop a clinic.”

Headquartered in Eugene, Ore., with branches in Washington state, Pacific Continental Bank is heavily community-oriented and has been actively involved with the UW Dental Alumni Association for years, helping sponsor the alumni golf tournament and vendor show.

Dr. Sidney Gallegos, a longtime bank client and Partner in Diversity committee member, launched interest in creating the scholarship through discussions with Private Banking Manager Rich Martinez. Joining in the discussions later on were Basant Singh, president and director of the bank’s Greater Seattle Market; bank vice president Leigh Sinni; and Dr. Jim Steiner, then School of Dentistry associate dean for student services and admissions.

They worked out an award whose goal was to address the disparity in health care representation by providing funding assistance to minority students entering the oral health care profession. The scholarship also recognizes the importance of fostering a passion for community service early in a student’s academic life.

Scholarship recipients volunteer with or educate minority groups about the importance of proper oral health care. This can include educating school-age children about proper oral healthcare; volunteering services in a community healthcare organization; or providing assistance to nonprofit organizations that offer dental health care services to those in need.

The commitment to the nonprofit sector was especially important for Pacific Continental Bank, which focuses on banking nonprofit organizations and encourages employees to volunteer their time with local organizations. The SOD scholarship represents a five-year commitment.

The focus on service is familiar territory for Piñón, who was born in Provo, Utah. The family moved to Yakima when he was 2. But he returned to Utah to attend Brigham Young University, as had his father, and served as a Mormon missionary in South America from 1987 to 1989.

After studying international marketing and Spanish translation in college, he worked in Hawaii and Arizona in insurance and telecommunications, but his work ultimately left him unsatisfied. Looking for a new career, he found himself drawn to dentistry.

“Dentists seemed to be the happiest, the most fulfilled,” he says. “They had time to devote to their families and community service, and that was important to me.”

After joining the UW School of Dentistry’s pre-dental club and obtaining a biology degree at Central Washington University, he entered the school . Busy from the start, he did summer research and also helped out on a campaign for fluoridation in northwest Washington. He also has helped mentor high school students in Dental Camp each year at the school, and has worked with the Washington Dental Service Foundation’s Smilemobile outreach.

A return toYakima will be a happy homecoming for Piñón, whose parents still live there, as does one brother (he has four more, plus a sister). That, he says, was a big factor in his desire to practice there. And staying in Washington, he’ll also still be able to pursue his love of mountain hiking, along with his interests in tennis and mountain biking.