Sarah Wovcha ’89

2013 Distinguished Citizen Award

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Growing up in Michigan, Sarah Wovcha ’89 didn't have to think twice about her college decision. “I knew since eighth grade that I wanted to go to Macalester and be in a place where community involvement mattered,” says Wovcha, who studied international studies and political science.

Wovcha still cares deeply about that. She's active in several Twin Cities organizations, serving on the board at Native American youth shelter Ain Dah Yung and as the Wedge Community Co-op’s board president. A breast cancer survivor, she has also mentored young women with cancer.

Wovcha has blended education with real-world experience, first as a social worker and later, after graduating from the University of Minnesota Law School, as a legal services attorney focusing on family and Indian law. She worked with the Twin Cities Native American community on a range of public health issues, which motivated her to pursue a Master of Public Health degree from the Harvard School of Public Health and Kennedy School of Government in 1999. In 2001 she became executive director of the Minnesota nonprofit Children’s Dental Services.

Today Wovcha pushes for reform through her work at CDS, which provides dental care and advocacy for low-income and uninsured children and pregnant women. A shortage of dentists and lack of access to basic preventive dental services ratchet up costly emergency room visits, she says. Wovcha was a key player in 2009 legislation that made Minnesota the first state to license mid-level dental providers, dentistry’s corollary to the nurse-practitioner. “We're seeing the impact of dental disease, and we need to move toward integrating oral health and general health,” she says. “Systemic change gives us the most hope for expanding access.”