2012 Harvey E. Beech Outstanding Young Alumni Award
Robert M. Selden ’94
Orthodontist, Selden Orthodontics
For a guy who devotes his life to making the smiles of other people worth showing off, Robert Selden III ’94 doesn’t smile much himself.
“He’s real serious,” said his longtime friend Melchee Johnson ’94. “He has a little bit of a sense of humor, but he doesn’t let it show a lot.”
People who know Rob well talk about him using words like “hard-working,” “dedicated,” “focused,” “unwavering” and “self-motivated.” After a pause to think how he would describe himself, he comes up with: “extremely dependable.”
Which is why, when his younger brother, John Selden ’95 (DDS), showed their mother a video of Rob at his daughter’s track meet, she didn’t believe it was her serious, nose-to-the-grindstone elder son hollering and cheering on his daughter to cross the finish line first.
One daughter’s track meets, his other daughter’s gymnastics competitions and his son’s football games are the only times Rob gets loud. All other times, he quietly, diligently, dependably works to make life better for others.
Rob runs Selden Orthodontics in Charlotte and commutes to Chapel Hill regularly as an adjunct clinical faculty member in the Department of Orthodontics in UNC’s dental school. Busy as he is with professional and family responsibilities, he still manages to provide free orthodontic care to underprivileged families through the N.C. Missions of Mercy free adult dental clinic, the Ada Jenkins Free Dental Bus and the Give Kids a Smile program.
“Not everyone has the same opportunities I’ve had,” he said. “I go out on the buses to help people who can’t afford dental care, and I do what I can do.”
As a student, Rob was a leader in Kappa Alpha Psi. Recently, he completed the three-year cycle of president of the Old North State Dental Society, the minority counterpart to the N.C. Dental Society. He serves as secretary of the Continental Orthodontic Study Club and is on the advisory board of the Charlotte Medical, Dental and Pharmaceutical Society.
UNC almost lost Rob to another ACC school. Growing up in Virginia, he rooted for UVA and Georgetown, teams Carolina regularly trounced. After his parents divorced, he moved with his siblings and his mom to Belmont, where everyone was a Tar Heel fan. All of his friends wanted to go to Carolina, but Rob wouldn’t be pushed. The summer before his senior year, he spent a month at Duke in an enrichment program. “I came home a Duke fan,” he said. “I also went to Project Uplift, but it was only four days.”
What tipped the balance to Carolina was the dental school. Rob’s dad was an orthodontist, and Rob wanted to follow in his career footsteps. The full-ride Pogue Scholarship Rob received factored into his decision as well. He continued at UNC for his DDS, and UNC was one of the places he applied for his orthodontics residency. More than 200 people applied for one of only five spaces in the program.
He felt great relief when he learned he was accepted. At that time, he and Shirley Miller ’94 were talking marriage. “Knowing I was going to stay in Chapel Hill made it a whole lot easier,” he said. “We didn’t have to have that tough discussion of whether I’d go to Alabama.”
He said yes to UNC, and she said yes to his marriage proposal.
Melchee Johnson ’94 said Rob has “always done what he sets his mind to.” His trainer at the gym calls him “a beast” because of the intensity of his workouts. He has completed one triathlon and is training for another. John Selden says Rob is self-motivated and competes only with himself.
“He doesn’t do things for show,” John said. “He’s the same guy on Monday as he is on Tuesday as he is on Friday.”
Rob takes tremendous pride in motivating other dental school alumni to give back to the school. He raised $50,000 to sponsor a seminar room at the dental school, naming it in honor of his parents. While president of the Old North State Dental Society, he raised $125,000 from the 350 members to establish a scholarship for minority students. UNC’s dental school has a higher percentage of African-American students than almost any other dental school in the country.
Rob’s one indulgence is to post some of his before- and-after shots of his patients on his Facebook page, understandable, Johnson said, given that “smiles are changed every day because of him.”