Isaacson announces $1 million gift to School of Dentistry

Described as a visionary long before the phrase was popularized, four-time University of Minnesota alumnus Robert Isaacson, DDS, MS, PhD, was a man whose eye was always on the future. It was a perspective on life and work that he shared with his wife of 46 years, Delores, who was on campus March 25 to help announce the couple's commitment of $1 million to the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, Division of Orthodontics. The generous gift establishes the Dr. Robert J. Isaacson Endowed Professorship in Orthodontics in honor of Faculty Emeritus Robert Isaacson, who died in September 2018 at age 86.

Reflecting on her husband's 50-year career before a group of his former colleagues and students at a reception in the McNamara Alumni Center, Delores Isaacson shared the underlying motivation for his personal and professional success. "Bob never worked a day in his life," she said. "He loved the University of Minnesota, the School of Dentistry, his profession, students and fellow faculty members. Every day was filled with joy. He came home each night excited to tell me about all of the good things that had happened that day with his students and colleagues."
Brent Larson, director of the School of Dentistry's Division of Orthodontics and emcee of the celebratory event, shared the story of Isaacson's future-focused leadership, enthusiasm for teaching and lifelong learning, and his unique talent for empowering and motivating that influenced the lives of academic and clinical orthodontists around the world. "This generous gift allows us to honor Bob Isaacson," he said. "Most important, it allows us to continue his legacy to benefit generations of orthodontic residents to come."

Robert Isaacson received his bachelor of science in dentistry degree from the University of Minnesota in 1954, followed by a doctor of dental surgery degree ('56 ), a master of science degree in orthodontics ('61), and a PhD in anatomy ('62). From 1962 to 1973, he spearheaded the School of Dentistry's NIH-funded training program for dentists to earn a PhD in preparation for entry into dental education. He was department chair from 1965 to 1977, becoming the youngest full professor at the University of Minnesota at that time. While at Minnesota, he collaborated with engineering faculty to study the jaw in motion and was intimately involved in the development of 3D optical scanning technology. He also was the principal investigator for a U.S. Public Health Service grant to evaluate the use of expanded function auxiliaries in orthodontic practice, and his findings led to changes in the Minnesota Dental Practice Act that improved efficiencies in orthodontic practice and benefited both patients and providers. Under his tenure, 87 residents completed their graduate education, including 58 who earned a master of science degree and six who earned a PhD in basic science.

In 1977, he was recruited to be a department chair at the University of California-San Francisco and, a decade later, chaired the Department of Orthodontics at the Medical College of Virginia (1987-2001). While there, he pioneered the use of electronic recordkeeping and 3D digital technology.

Dr. Isaacson was a renowned lecturer who published too-many-to-count scientific papers, served on the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation, and was an examiner for the Northeastern Regional Board of Dental Examiners. In 1995, he was named Distinguished Practitioner in Dentistry by the National Academy of Practice. As editor-in-chief for 12 years of The Angle Orthodontist, an International Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, he is credited with catapulting the publication into the digital age by introducing electronic peer review of the publication process and giving readers open access to the journal content.

In 2002, Isaacson received the American Association of Orthodontists' (AAO) Albert H. Ketcham Award and was selected to deliver the 2003 John Valentine Mershon Lecture at the AAO annual meeting. In 2008, he received the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry Alumni Association's Distinguished Alumnus Award. One year later, the AAO Orthodontic Educational Leadership Conference held in Boston was named in his honor. In 2007, he was named professor emeritus of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry.

In a memorial tribute published in The Angle Orthodontist, Editor Steven Lindauer, DMD, MDSc., wrote of Isaacson, "His mind instinctively saw how things could be where most others just accommodated to how things were done. Bob's ideas were always born of the attitude of moving ahead; he never spent time pondering the past. This was done without selfish motivation, taking steps to implement change because it was the right thing to do."

Sharing one additional insight into the legacy of the visionary educator, Delores Isaacson noted, "Bob and I both believe that it is our responsibility to give back at least as much as we receive in life," said Delores Isaacson. "This is our way of giving back so that the good work can continue."

Family members attending the ceremony included daughters Catherine (Peter) Winge and Mary (Thomas) Klosowski; son Robert Isaacson (Karen); and grandchildren Katie Winge, Chris Winge, Haydn Luker, Regan Luker, and Frank Isaacson.

In thanking the Isaacson family for their generous gift, Division Director Larson announced the dental school's commitment to raise an additional $1.5 million. Priorities for these funds are to elevate the Isaacson professorship to an endowed chair of orthodontics and advance the school's recruitment and retention of orthodontic faculty; and to grow the previously established Robert J. Isaacson Innovation in Orthodontics Fund in support of innovative technology and research opportunities.

The Isaacson gift is part of the School of Dentistry's Driven: The University of Minnesota Campaign to raise $21.5 million to increase student support, drive innovation through research, and ensure state-of-the-art dental education through the use of digital dentistry, including imaging, impressions, dental restorations, and prosthetic construction through CAD/CAM and 3D printing. The dental school's initiative is a component of the University's $4 billion Driven. campaign that launched in 2011, with a public launch in September 2017. The campaign will be complete in 2021.

For more information about the two memorial funds established at the School of Dentistry to honor Dr. Robert J. Isaacson, contact: Emily Best, School of Dentistry Development Office, at emilyj@umn.edu or (612) 625-6811.

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Robert Isaacson, DDS, MS, PhD
Robert Isaacson, DDS, MS, PhD