Getting to the root of it

September 27, 2010 12:16 pm

As of Sept. 29, Dr. Stephen Koza’s career will come full circle with Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center.

In 1994, the then-junior at La Grande High School received a scholarship from Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center to participate in a dental career institute. As he learned about dentistry skills, the young man felt a sense of confirmation that dentistry was the field he wanted to pursue.

As a teen, he was a student leader as vice president of the student body at La Grande High School, a Boy Scout with Eagle Scout rank and a district swim champion. He was also an accomplished scholar throughout his academic career.

True to form, he followed his career path from student to professional. He attended Oregon State University and later received his Doctor of Dental Medicine degree from Oregon Health Sciences University in 2003.

Dr. Koza’s mother, Mary, recalls, “I will never forget the morning in December when he got the call from his student mentor saying he had been accepted into the dental program at OHSU. It was a proud day for all of us!’’

Fondly recalling his roots, he returned to La Grande in 2004 and quickly became a Northeast Oregon AHEC board member.

“I wanted to return the favor and contribute any way I could,’’ Dr. Koza said. “For many kids in rural communities, the only way they are going to learn about health careers is to participate in an AHEC program like MedQuest. I like being able to mentor to students and have a positive influence on their futures.’’

MedQuest is a weeklong residential camp held on Eastern Oregon University’s campus each summer. Steve and many other Union County community members offer their time and expertise to the students interested in health career opportunities.

“I strongly believe that job shadow experiences and direct contact with local health care providers are invaluable to students who participate in the program,’’ Dr. Koza said.

Board Chair Kathleen Negus said she is grateful for Dr. Koza’s investment in Northeast Oregon AHEC.

“Steve has always been an active contributor to our board. He was recently featured in an Oregon AHEC production and has always answered yes to volunteer in our programs,’’ she said. “Steve has also been a strong advocate when we developed new rural clinical rotations in Baker City for dental students.

“We are thrilled that he stayed with us for six years. We are happy he will continue to support us, even though his board term has ended.’’

Dr. Koza has given freely of his time and expertise to the Northeast Oregon AHEC board. He has served as board secretary, treasurer and chair. He is also a member of the La Grande Rotary Club, The Academy of General Dentistry, The American Dental Association and the Christian Medical and Dental Association.

When he is not serving his community or spending quality time with his family, he can be found at Koza Family Dental Care on Cove Avenue in La Grande.

Amy Dunkak is executive director of Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center, based at EOU.