Kiki Turner wasn’t content with her life. Having reached her mid-40s, she struggled to look back at the last couple of decades and see many positive personal achievements, save for the birth of her two children.
“Literally, I was not happy with myself or where I was in my life,” Kiki said. “At my age, I had no career or nothing really to fall back on. My life was totally not going into the right direction.”
Throughout her adult life, she had worked a number of dead-end jobs – positions in retail, customer service, and restaurants which she hoped would lead to managerial opportunities. But, such opportunities never transpired.
“I wasn’t getting paid enough,” she said. “I was doing those jobs for years and years … but nobody ever wanted to offer me anything other than entry-level. I was struggling financially, and it was just … enough was enough.”
Ready to take a step in a new direction, Kiki turned to UEI College in Chula Vista (CA), a campus she’d long noticed as it was close to her neighborhood. She sat down with admissions, explained her situation, and was soon enrolled in UEI’s Dental Assistant training program.
After weathering a few COVID-related bumps in the road – from having to adjust to hybrid classroom changes due to new COVID protocols, to actually contracting COVID herself – Kiki graduated from the program with straight-As. Soon after, she earned a full-time dental assistant position at a clinic she describes as being “like a second family to me.”
The positive nature of the entire experience – her transformation, if you will – simply cannot be overstated, Kiki says.
“UEI saved my life. They saved me,” she said. “My life was totally not going in the right direction, and being able to [graduate from UEI] really changed my life and my life path. Now, I have something. I didn’t have anything at first.”
FINDING A PASSION IN DENTAL ASSISTING
According to Kiki, establishing a career in the dentistry field had never before entered her mind. In fact, she hadn’t even been raised to go to the dentist on a regular basis, so even from a patient’s standpoint, she had little personal experience in the field.
Yet, she wanted a career that helped people improve their lives in some way, so she thought she’d give the Dental Assistant program a try. She soon realized she’d made a great career choice.
“From the first module I took, I started taking a big interest in [dentistry],” she said. “The education starts off with the history of it, the origin of dental and where it comes from… The more I got into it, the field continued to pique my interests even more.”
However, Kiki began the program just before the COVID pandemic hit. During her third module, courses shifted to online learning, which included some adjustments. Having gotten to personally know many of the instructors and staff personally before the transition, she said, helped make it a bit smoother.
“All my instructors were there for me,” she said. “They rooted for me, they helped me, they encouraged me… I just have to give a shout out to the whole dental program at UEI. Even the higher-ups … they were available to help, even giving me extra time in the labs when they could.”
“I found that being Kiki’s instructor was quite a rewarding privilege,” said Dental Assistant Program Instructor Zelma Leon, who worked with Kiki in UEI’s Chula Vista dental program. “She carried herself with enthusiasm and great spirit. Her brightness allowed her to visualize the opportunities instead of the obstacles, and her constant growth is foreseeable, as not only did she capitalize on her intelligence and extraordinary potential, [but] she also made sure every skill and endeavor was heartfelt.”
With this level of help and support from the faculty, mixed with her ever-growing interest in the dentistry field, Kiki was able to earn A’s in all of her classes, an accomplishment that surprised even her.
“I didn’t think I could do it,” she said. “I didn’t think I was smart enough to get those kinds of grades. I just pushed myself to do that, and I was really proud of myself. I was intrigued with the education, and I just dug into it. It wasn’t hard for me. It just came hand-in-hand with my interest in [dentistry].”
A FOOT IN THE DOOR TO A NEW CAREER
After successfully completing her externship and graduating from UEI College, Kiki took about four months off. She contracted COVID soon after graduation, and it took her some time to regain the momentum she had built through school.
But, when she was fully recovered and ready, she began her job search in earnest.
“I went on a couple of working interviews, and finally, I came across where I’m working at right now – Rancho Dental,” Kiki said. “I knew automatically I was a perfect fit for this place. They’re teaching me, there’s room for growth here, and I’m just doing real well. I work well with the whole team.”
Even having earned full-time employment in the dentistry field, Kiki said she still considered UEI College to be part of her support system. She knows that if she needs it, the staff and instructors will still be there to help her find job leads, allow her to practice in the labs, or even just answer questions about day-to-day dental assisting.
That said, Kiki said she’s done looking backward. These days, she has her sights set on improving and advancing within her new profession.
“I’m definitely going to continue my education,” she said. “Right now, I’m just an assistant, but I’m going to take my RDA (Registered Dental Assistant) exam soon, and I’m going to move up from there. I’ve got my foot in the door of my career, and this is where I want to be for sure.”
“We are very proud of Kiki,” said David Movsesian, UEI College Chula Vista Campus President. “She was focused and determined on reaching her goals; and despite facing some challenges, we knew she was destined to be a true success story. It was a pleasure having Kiki as a student, and we are excited for her future in the dental field.”