As she was preparing to graduate from Downey High School in 2020, Yesenia Gutierrez did a lot of research about career options. She knew that pursuing post-secondary education was necessary for a good career, but she wasn’t exactly sure what her future might look like.
Everything seemed to click for the 18-year-old when she found the Dental Assistant Training Program at UEI College in Huntington ParkD, where she enrolled and started in January of 2021.
“I watched a lot of informational videos and I read a ton of information online,” Yesenia said. “I became really interested in becoming a dental assistant after that. I remember seeing a ‘day in the life’ video for dental assisting, and then I knew that was right for me.”
She had always enjoyed visits to the dentist in her youth and had recently gotten braces as part of an orthodontic treatment, during which she enjoyed the interaction with the dental staff. Those positive experiences helped to influence her decision to pursue a dental career.
“Everyone in the dental office was always so nice to me and wanted to help me have a great smile, and I thought that would be a great job,” she said. “What motivated me to enter this career is because I love helping others feel good about themselves, and if I can help someone keep a beautiful smile I would really enjoy that. In our society, your smiles say a lot about you.”
“It’s also a fast-paced job with daily variety, and I really like that, too,” Yesenia added.
There is also a deeper motivation driving Yesenia, molded by the persistent influence of her parents and watching them work hard throughout her childhood. Both of her parents are immigrants to the United States. Her father came from Mexico as a teenager, and her mother arrived from Guadalajara as a young adult.
“My sister and I know how hard they worked for their citizenship, and they always kept us focused on homework, studying, and doing well in school,” Yesenia said. “They reminded us all of the time that life can be tough if you do not have a good career, and they want us to be able to pursue our dreams. When they were my age, they didn’t have an opportunity like this, so I want to make them proud.”
A Scholarship to Smile About
Yesenia said that she is enjoying the Dental Assistant program at UEI Huntington Park and things are going well.
“I really like the instructors,” she said. “They are so helpful and really take the time to make sure you completely understand everything.”
It was an instructor who encouraged Yesenia to attend a webinar hosted by Pacific Dental Services®, where she learned about a scholarship program for dental assistant students that was offered by the Pacific Dental Services® Foundation (PDSF). Recognizing the importance of dental assistants to the future of dentistry, PDSF created the Dr. Carolyn Ghazal Dental Assistant Scholarship to provide students with need-based financial aid, mentorship, and on-the-job training.
Named after Dr. Carolyn Ghazal and her heart for service, the scholarship aims to mold the next generation of passionate, servant-hearted dental assistant leaders. Over the past few years, PDSF has given more than $775,000 in scholarships to DA students, including several from UEI College campuses throughout California.
“The scholarship provides students with financial support and mentorship as they pursue a career in dental assisting,” said Dr. Carolyn Ghazal, Chair of Associate Dentist Development at PDS University – Institute of Dentistry. “My hope is that it will make a significant impact in the life of a DA student and foster their professional and personal development.”
Yesenia learned that she was a finalist for the Dr. Carolyn Ghazal Dental Assistant and was interviewed by the scholarship committee. Then, when one of the committee members contacted her and requested that she join a Zoom call with other finalists, she was excited but also a bit nervous.
“I was nervous because I didn’t know what to expect,” Yesenia said. “When they announced that there were no more interviews because all of us on the call were getting a scholarship, it took a minute for me to process that, and then I was overwhelmed with emotions. When I called my mom to tell her, we were both crying.”
Those happy tears flowed because, as Yesenia describes it, her parents want her and her sister to have a good future but they do not have large incomes to cover all of the costs of education.
“This $5,000 scholarship is a tremendous help to my entire family,” she said.
“It is a pleasure to support these dental assistant students on their journey towards their dreams! Yesenia has a great passion for the dental field and has a heart for service,” said Kyle Guerin, Executive Director of the Pacific Dental Services Foundation.
“Yesenia was a fantastic student from the get-go. She came in strong and never missed a beat since. She acquired 100% attendance in my class,” said Instructor Dennis Garcia. “This scholarship went to someone very deserving. Congratulations and way to go, Yesenia!”
“Yesenia is a delightful student to have on campus,” said John Espiro, Campus President at UEI Huntington Park. “She is truly dedicated to her studies and her future as a dental assistant, and we were thrilled to learn that she was selected for a PDSF scholarship. From all of us at UEI College, congratulations, Yesenia!”