A giving thing

By Bec Crew

Meredith Owen graduated with a dentistry degree and a love of volunteering.
Image of Meredith Owen

Credit: Brian McInerney

Meredith Owen moved to Sydney from her home in Dartmouth, Canada to begin a postgraduate Bachelor of Dentistry in 2006 and became involved as a volunteer in her first year, when she was elected Academic Representative for the Sydney University Dental Undergraduates Association. She went on to serve as Vice President in her third year and President in her fourth.

For Meredith, volunteering is all about the connections. Whether it facilitates a stronger connection to the University, a new group of friends, or peers from all over the country, volunteering is about making a place for yourself while you’re studying, and having a lasting impact on your faculty and its students. “University is more than just the degree you get at the end,” says Owen. “Imet so many friends, and built my own support network here, and that was the best part of it,” she says. “Connecting with everyone made me feel more a part of the community and connected to the University, especially because in Dentistry, we’re not on campus all the time, so it really made me feel a lot more connected to what’s going on.”

In 2007, Owen teamed up with two dental students from the Universities of Adelaide and Western Australia to establish the Australian Dental Students Association, which organises a national conference for dental students every year. Students from all across Australia are brought together over a week of lectures, gadget displays, pub crawls and cocktail parties, and since graduating, Owen has watched it flourish on its own.

It’s this opportunity to establish your own organisations, and in a way your own legacies, that she counts as one of the most exciting aspects of student volunteering. “The best part about student organisations is there’s a continual influx of new people coming in. People are very flexible, and they’re open to change and new ideas, and that’s why it makes it more open to more types of people,” she says. “And the good thing about university too, is you can start your own committee. I’ve heard of people who started committees in their own faculties because they didn’t have one. You can get funding from the USU, it’s as easy as that.”

As part of her third-year elective, Owen also spent time doing volunteer dentistry in Laos with an organisation called Tooth Aid. “It was pretty awesome. We stayed in the villages, so we got to know all the chiefs and everyone in the community. In terms of what the dental health is for the average person in a developing country, it’s definitely an eye-opener,” she says. “Itoffers another perspective.”

Since graduating in 2009, Owen has been working as a dentist in private practices around Sydney and in rural areas, and returns to the Faculty of Dentistry as a clinical educator one day a week. As a former President of the Dentistry Alumni Society of the University of Sydney (2012), her focus is now on connecting Sydney alumni with current students, through events such as cocktail parties, hosting events in conjunction with faculty rugby games, and the Women in Dentistry Evening, which brings together dentistry students with working female dentists.

“I think being an alumnus is really important,” she says. “We’re trying really hard to have some joint events with the students. Just so they know we’re there, so they know that it’s something that they can be a part of, and to urge them to become active members. Because that’s what keeps an organisation going, the new graduates coming in.”

Like most volunteers you’ll meet, Owen is thoroughly pragmatic about fitting in all of her commitments, and seems to thrive on it. “You just have to fit it all in. Go to bed early, and get your things done,” she says. “It’s a good busy.”