PFEIFFER SPOTLIGHT: Big smiles and full circle moments

By Emma Kate West, for Pfeiffer University

In the fall of 1998, Cathy Benson Laws (Class of 2002) began her first year at Pfeiffer University. Like many freshmen, she was worried about selecting the right major and finding community with other students. At the time, she never imagined that, in addition to friends and mentors, Pfeiffer would also provide the foundation upon which she would build a thriving dental practice.

Cathy Laws

Laws’ worries about fitting in were cast aside almost immediately. She was welcomed to Pfeiffer by a group of students who lived in Merner Hall, and she still affectionately refers to them as the “Merner Girls.”

She found a sense of belonging and camaraderie among her new friends. They shared laughter, study sessions and supported each other through both personal and academic challenges. The group has remained close throughout the years and continue to support one another.

Similarly, Laws found Pfeiffer faculty to be extremely supportive. Leaning toward a career in science, she was among the last generation of students to study under long-time professors like Dr. Steve Dial, Dr. Don Jackman and Dr. Mike Riemann, and part of the first to learn from Dr. Mark McCallum. She recalls Dr. Riemann “walking around like a father, with what felt like genuine, heartfelt praise for his kids.” And she still keeps in touch with “Dr. Mac.”

“Cathy was an excellent student, and she experienced so much growth while she was at Pfeiffer. Helping guide students like her, to prepare them for whatever career they want to pursue, is what I love most about my work,” said McCallum, director of academic initiatives and professor of biology. “Any student whose goal is to enter the medical professions can be well-equipped at Pfeiffer for success. We are proud of a long tradition of high acceptance rates.”

The small student-to-faculty ratio at Pfeiffer helped Laws to have a truly personalized educational experience that prepared her well for dental school and a successful career in dentistry. Laws lists an unlikely combination of faculty members, outside of her chemistry major, who impacted her time as a student and her eventual career. Laws says she “actually learned to draw” under Dr. Jim Haymaker’s instruction, for example. As a student, the value of that understanding escaped her, but later, Haymaker’s lessons served her well.

“The Dental Admission Test includes examination for perceptual ability, because a dentist needs artistic or sculpting skills in order to restore both function and form to a tooth,” said Laws. “Beautiful is correct form, and correct form is beautiful — and reintroduces quality to a healthy life.”

After graduating from Pfeiffer in 2002, Laws was accepted to West Virginia University’s School of Dentistry and was awarded the U.S. Military’s Health Professions Scholarship to earn her Doctor of Dental Surgery degree. As a U.S. Army Captain, Laws fulfilled her military service commitment at Baumholder Dental Clinic, as a part of the 464th Medical Company stationed at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany.

Upon her return to the States, Laws worked as an emergency and associate dentist before establishing her own dental practice in 2014. Now a regional provider, Carolina Dentistry and Dentures has grown to seven offices in 10 years, including offices in Albemarle and Salisbury. She and her husband, Keith, who manages business operations, lead a team of eight dentists and 50 assistants, hygienists, technicians and office staff. The practices include on-site labs allowing them to provide many same-day services like dentures and night guards.

Determined to ensure that every patient receives the highest level of personalized treatment, Laws and her employees engage in leadership development and continuing education, in order to offer traditional dental care as well as emerging services focused on the oral-body connection, such as screening for and treating sleep apnea. She embraces new competencies in her field, such as minimally invasive techniques (think “no-drill” fillings), and especially enjoys the satisfaction that comes from helping to improve the quality of life for her patients.

She says she also loves it when she gets to have a full circle moment in her work. In one particularly case, Laws treated a patient who was once a speaker in a Cultural Credit Program lecture at Pfeiffer, on leadership. More than two decades later, she remembers well a quote that has stuck with her from that presentation — “Good leaders take all of the blame and take none of the credit.” She was able to gratefully remind her patient of the words of wisdom and share how they’ve guided her in her own entrepreneurial journey.

“It’s an especially wonderful thing for me when I get to provide care for someone who helped me get to where I am now,” she said. “There were so many Pfeiffer faculty and staff who made a difference for me — both in and out of the classroom. What a blessing now, to be able to care for them.”