Dental Assistant Student Blossomed in Fresno

At the age of 42, after an 18-month incarceration, Maria Baca felt like her life had hit a dead end. Then she decided to join the UEI Dental assistant program.

She had lost her apartment and belongings and was forced to move back in with her parents and start from scratch. Every job application was turned down and those that weren’t turned down required a uniform that she couldn’t afford.

“At that point, there was nothing I can do,” she said. “Nothing I was going to be able to do. I was stuck. My outlook was very bleak.”

In a moment of boredom, she saw a post online asking if she would be interested in career training at UEI College. On a whim, she clicked yes and very soon after that, she got a call from the school.

“At first, I was skeptical,” she said. “But for some reason, I said, ‘okay’ and listened to them. Finally, at the end, I was asked if I was ready to enroll. Since nothing else in my life was going right, I figured –what the heck, this is the perfect time in my life to try something new.”

Two weeks later, she had enrolled in the Dental Assistant school at UEI College in Fresno.

“It was something totally different, out of my realm. This was totally the opposite anything I had done before,” she said. “Because it was such a change, I thought I’m going to give it a try.”

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Maria was hesitant at first. With each A she received and each new skill she learned, her confidence grew.

“At first it was very hard for me,” she said. “Having to reteach myself how to focus and how to learn. By my sixth module, I had perfect attendance, made it on the President’s List, and was standing with honors. I haven’t felt this proud of myself in a long time.”

Maria was so proud she was hired to work at the school on Federal Work Study and decided to become an ambassador, a move that surprised her instructor, Lori Vincent.

“I thought it was great, but she came in so shy,” Lori said. “At first, I thought she was too shy, but I think becoming an ambassador gave her a boost of encouragement and she stepped into the role of being a mentor and it was like she was made for it. It boosted her confidence so much.”

Lori said Maria was a natural helper. She was quick to learn her skills and that made it easy for her to turn around and help other students who were struggling. Watching her transformation was inspiring.

“To watch her growth was amazing,” Lori said. “She came in very shy and timid, had her head held low. To watch her blossom and go to extern and her shoulders were back, her head was up. Once she was ready to leave, she was showing up for herself every single day. To watch that transformation was amazing.”

When Maria left for her externship, she found her true passion.

“Getting to work on live patients was just different,” she said. “I have customer service skills and I’ve dealt with the public before but to actually get to work on patients was totally different and I liked it. It made me more interested and made me want to pursue the career even more.”

With support from Career Services, Maria was able to find a full-time job at a dental office after graduation.

“I feel accomplished,” she said. “It’s definitely not where I thought I would be. I’m 100 times further than I thought I was going to be and it’s so satisfying to me.”

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