Dental Hygiene Alumnus Starts Fund for Scholarship

By Ben Boulden

About 84% of all dental hygienists are white of which 96% are women. African Americans make up approximately 4% of all hygienists, with African American men accounting for fewer than 1%. Robinson wants to change that. He has raised and donated the seed money to fund The Richard Robinson Scholarship for the College of Health Professions Dental Hygiene Program. The scholarship will be awarded annually to a dental hygiene student in the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Health Professions who is from an underrepresented minority group and demonstrates financial need.

“I am a firm believer that brilliance is everywhere, but the opportunity isn’t there for everyone,” Robinson, a 2022 graduate of the Dental Hygiene program, said. “This scholarship is going to provide somebody that opportunity for them to live their dreams and bridge that gap in dental hygiene with the minority percentage in this country.”

Donate and read more about The Richard Robinson Scholarship.

Robinson spent years operating his own retail business as well as managing Banana Republic and Rue 21 clothing stores. He was getting his teeth cleaned when he had what he calls a “light bulb” moment of revelation.

“I got home and I told my wife, ‘Hey, I’m going to clean teeth. I don’t even know what it’s called, but I want to do that.’ She said let’s talk and figure out how you can do that,” Robinson said. “I had no plans for the next thing. Looking around the dentist office and how happy my dental hygienist was, I said ‘I want to work happy like she does every day.’ I have enjoyed it so much.”

The inspired idea to pursue a new career in dental hygiene might have come in a moment, but the work getting there and earning his degree did not.

Nearly 20 years ago, Robinson flunked out of nursing school because of poor grades. He had struggled with reading and reading comprehension his entire life, along with severe test anxiety. What had been holding him back academically was undiagnosed dyslexia. In his 30s he sought help, identified the disability and started working hard with a literacy tutor to overcome it.

Text that an average reader might get through in 30 minutes took him 90 minutes. Through repetition and applying himself, Robinson has gotten better at reading, training himself cognitively to process words.

The work to overcome his dyslexia and study dental hygiene paid off with a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene and a new career.

“I wouldn’t just say I love it. I would say I am obsessed with this profession,” Robinson said. “It’s the passion with which I clean teeth and try to educate patients.”

A Pine Bluff native, he’s started a nonprofit to support dental education and dental hygiene in underserved communities in central and southern Arkansas. Part of reaching those communities is connecting with them through dental hygienists and professionals who look like them and have similar cultural backgrounds.

“When I greet someone in the reception room, and they see me, patients sometimes say, ‘Oh, you’re my hygienist?’ An African American dental hygienist. They’re surprised to see some diversity,” Robinson said. “I want to continue that with getting more minority men and women to come to the program and make changes. Maybe that will inspire more minority students to enter the field of dental hygiene.”