New School of Dentistry dean hits the ground running

At the School of Dentistry's recent Staff Council Ice Cream Social, the school's new dean, Marsha Pyle, had the opportunity to visit with faculty and staff.
At the School of Dentistry's recent Staff Council Ice Cream Social, the school's new dean, Marsha Pyle, had the opportunity to visit with faculty and staff.

Dr. Marsha Pyle brings diverse portfolio of experience to UMKC

For Marsha Pyle, DDS, MEd, the path that led her to UMKC and her position as the new dean of the School of Dentistry began in Kenton, Ohio — a small town along the Scioto River in the northwestern part of the state — where she was born and raised. Like most of life’s paths, however, it wasn’t exactly a straight one. Between Kenton and Kansas City, Dr. Pyle’s path to UMKC included several stops, a number of interesting turns, and one significant detour along the way.

Dr. Pyle – who began her duties here at UMKC on Aug. 10 – believes her upbringing laid the foundation for the path that brought her to Kansas City.

“I think growing up in a small, rural town really fostered in me a sense of community,” Dr. Pyle said. “In small towns, you know your neighbors and when someone needs help, everyone rallies and comes together in ways you just don’t often see in big cities. I learned early on that it really feels good to help people.”

With a desire to help people, coupled with a passion for science, she knew as a teenager that a career in health care was where she was headed. She thought about medical technology or dentistry and, after graduating from high school, she headed about 80 miles up the road for a stop at Ashland University, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree.

“While I was in college, though, I began to have some second thoughts about what I wanted to do as a career,” Dr. Pyle said. “Frankly, I was painfully shy and not sure I had the people-skills necessary to actually treat patients.”

She moved on to the Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, where she continued her studies and earned certification as a medical technologist. She worked in that field for the next few years while she earned her Master’s Degree. This is where Dr. Pyle’s path began a slight detour.

“I gained some great experience during that time,” Dr. Pyle said. “More than anything, though, it was during that time that the calling to dentistry became crystal clear to me.”

Changing Course

Next stop” Case Western Reserve University School of Dentistry in Cleveland, where she graduated with her DDS in 1984. After that, she completed a one-year general practice residency at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Cleveland, where she had volunteered and participated in clinical rotations as a student.

Following that experience, Dr. Pyle opened a private practice with her husband Ron Lemmo, who she met and married while the two were dental students together at Case Western. In what would be an important career-defining “turn” in Dr. Pyle’s professional journey, she also accepted an invitation to teach part-time as a clinical instructor at Case Western in 1986.

“I fell in love with teaching,” she said.

It wasn’t long before the private practice became Dr. Pyle’s part-time job and she focused the majority of her energy on a career in academia. The next turn in the path came in 1989, when she was offered the opportunity to participate in a two-year fellowship in geriatric dentistry through the Case Western School of Medicine and MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.

“That was really a valuable and eye-opening learning experience for me,” she said. “Not only did it inspire my focus in the area of geriatrics, but it gave me the opportunity to train in a truly multi-disciplinary environment – working and learning alongside physicians and nurses as well as other dentists.”

That experience paid off immediately, as she was appointed an Assistant Professor of Geriatric Dentistry soon after completing the fellowship in 1991. Along with that appointment, Dr. Pyle was tasked with the creation of the Case Western Reserve University Training Center for Geriatric Oral Health. She then served as director of the Training Center from 1996-2000. She also found time to pick up her Master of Education degree from Cleveland State University in 1997.

From there, her career at Case Western continued to blossom – she achieved tenure in 2000 and was promoted to full Professor in 2007. Beside her teaching and clinical duties, Dr. Pyle would also serve as Case Western School of Dental Medicine Associate Dean for Education and then Vice Dean, the position she held prior to accepting the deanship at the UMKC School of Dentistry.

Final stop: UMKC

With her strong Ohio roots and a rewarding career on the rise at Case Western, Dr. Pyle said it was not an easy decision to pursue the opportunity here at UMKC but, ultimately, an opportunity she could not pass up.

“The UMKC School of Dentistry has a great reputation and is respected nationwide for its academic, research and service programs,” Dr. Pyle said. “In a way, I believe everything I’ve experienced over the course of my career – the choices I’ve made and the opportunities I’ve been given – were all designed to lead me here.”

In announcing the appointment of Dr. Pyle as Dean of the School of Dentistry, UMKC Provost Gail Hackett praised her experience, scholarship and leadership, noting that “Dr. Pyle’s strong commitment to education and service to the community” reflects the historic mission of the dental school.

While she is optimistic about the future, she also sees and is realistic about the challenges ahead and believes that the UMKC dental school is poised perfectly and prepared to meet and overcome those challenges.

“The UMKC School of Dentistry is doing great things,” Dr. Pyle said. “The faculty and leaders here are talented and quality people. As we move forward, we will begin by focusing on honoring and celebrating the things we do well – the things that faculty and staff value, as a starting point for the development of the new vision of what we can become into the future. It is a time of great optimism and opportunity.”

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