Awards Profile: Jennifer Y. Cyriaque ’98 (Ph.D.)

2017 Hortense K. McClinton Outstanding Faculty Staff Award
Jennifer Y. Cyriaque ’98 (Ph.D.)

Jennifer Webster-Cyriaque is a professor of dental ecology in the UNC School of Dentistry and professor of microbiology and immunology in the UNC School of Medicine. She started as a resident at UNC Memorial Hospital in 1998, joined the School of Dentistry in 2000, and became assistant professor at the School of Medicine in 2001.

Today, she is a full professor, dentist, principal investigator, clinical researcher, teacher and mentor, among other positions that she carries formally and informally. She has been an integral part of the faculty, research and clinics at both schools. She directs the Viral Oral Infections in Immunosuppression and Cancer (VOIICe) program, is a leader in oral virology and has published more than 50 articles. She is a founding member of the American Association for Dental Research Diversity Task Force and of the National Dental Association Research Executive Committee. She has received awards for contributions to research and education, including the Infectious Disease Society of America Gertrude Elion Award, National Dental Association Colgate-Palmolive Faculty Research Award and Old North State Overall Outstanding Achievement Award.

Webster-Cyriaque has served on many university committees, mentors students at every level from high school to post-doctoral, and led national and local committees, programs and panels focused on training, diversity and translational research. She is an adviser for the Undergraduate Student National Dental Association, a group interested in both dentistry and in serving communities of color. Each month she visits the Student National Dental Association CAARE clinic in Durham and helped spearhead the UNC Dental Malawi Project, sending students to Africa since 2004 in a partnership to help provide care for one of the poorest African countries. She is also one of the few scientists and clinicians of color and received the Mentor of the Year Award from the UNC Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity for Ph.D. mentorship in the biomedical sciences.

Webster-Cyriaque believes that dental care and research are critical to improving oral health, and that both are drivers for service. With that belief, she attends the UNC hospital dental clinic, where she provides care to the underserved and medically compromised. Providing care for these populations fuels her academia, providing rationale for every other level of service she provides. Her research and teaching parallel the provocative clinical problems she encounters in her patient population. She also educates the community about oral manifestations of cancer and HIV through research and by providing local, national and international continuing education.

Webster-Cyriaque believes in diversity of thought and that being a historically underrepresented, minority woman and a child of working class parents affects teaching in the classroom, laboratory and her clinical environment.

“My presence says, ‘If I can be here, you can, too. You meet the criteria and you deserve an opportunity, regardless of creed, race, orientation or circumstance,’” Webster-Cyriaque said.

For almost 20 years, Webster-Cyriaque has been involved at UNC serving as an integral part of the faculty, research and clinics at both schools. She is a symbol of high-quality research and diversity. As an African-American female researcher, she has overcome obstacles minorities faced in the bioscience field. She also has mentored other minorities along the way, and her diligence, commitment and intellect have taken her beyond all these challenges.

Her diverse research group has been composed mostly of underrepresented populations, such as women, individuals of African-American descent and international scholars. The Mentor of the Year Award she received in 2012 from the UNC Initiative to Maximize Diversity Program for excellent Ph.D. mentorship in the biomedical sciences is only one example of recognition she has received for her dedication to breaking racial and cultural ceilings in the scientific world.

She has guided and mentored countless students during her UNC tenure, and she has shaped and helped launch the careers of numerous qualified researchers and clinicians. Her mentees leave equipped not only with the technical skills and knowledge but also with the attitude, mind and encouragement that allows for success in biomedical sciences and life in general. Her advice is always generous; she suggests improvement and change without being destructive and by remaining humane in stressful environments. She pushes, but also gives the freedom to grow and make personal decisions. Her brilliant intellect mixed with an incredible memory and distinct emotional intelligence make her a highly engaged and respected leader, mentor, faculty member, clinician and human being.