Natasha Donald has never had much luck with jobs in the past, but when a cousin started posting on social media about all that she was doing as a Dental Assistant student at UEI College, she was immediately interested.
“I was seeing a lot of the things she was posting that she was doing in class, and she was telling me about it,” she said. “She was doing dental and that’s what I wanted to do. I was so intrigued by everything. She was telling me it was really fun. You get to learn a lot of things, and she was telling me about the job placement, and I was like, ‘Ok, yeah, I want to give that a try.’ ”
Natasha had just given birth to her fifth child. She had been living out of a hotel for three years in Orange County and she was ready to make a move toward something better. She enrolled in the Dental Assistant program at UEI’s Garden Grove campus.
“I made a big step to do something with myself because I got tired of sitting around and not doing anything,” she said. “Going to school, meeting all the new people, the teachers and staff … they all made me feel welcome and said, ‘Hey, if you need anything, you need any help, let me know.’ I took that and was really inspired.”
That early motivation quickly faded as soon as Natasha learned she would be practicing on real patients while in school.
“I went from module 110 — being in the classroom most of the module learning about terms and paperwork and all the simple things you need to learn to be in the labs — and the next module was right into the labs, only labs, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t think it was going to be like this,’ ” she said. “I thought, ‘I don’t know what I got myself into. I think I took a big step. I think I bit off more than I could chew.’ Even when I was stressed out and thought I was doing bad, my work still showed I was doing well.”
“When she first started, she was a nervous nelly,” said Martha Flores, Natasha’s instructor. “She didn’t believe in herself. I’m very honest with students. If they are a hot mess I will tell them, ‘You are a hot mess. You need to relax and get organized.’ She did, and you could see the confidence in her. She started noticing that she was doing good with her skills. She really changed a lot.”
Natasha not only overcame her nerves, but she also overcame a loss of transportation and the exhaustion of taking care of a brand-new baby. She even got a job on campus and began working there on the days she was not going to class.
“A lot of people miss out on good things in life when they make excuses,” she said. “I knew I was not going to make an excuse. If I did this and I started it, I was going to finish it. I made sure I was there, and my priorities were aligned with school and what my goals were. Being a work-study student, I got to know the staff a lot. Everybody there was rooting for you. The whole school staff from the teachers to the office staff, everyone there really showed you that they were rooting for you. They wanted to see you make it. I grew so many relationships and they kept me encouraged to keep going. They were just inspiring.”
Natasha ended up graduating in 10 months with a 3.9 GPA. She was hired soon after graduation.
“When it got to graduation, I thought, ‘I cannot believe I did this,’ ” she said. “It was just like wow, I did this. It felt like a long process, but it was actually really quick, and I was so happy I actually did this. I said I was going to do this, I said I was going to make this change in my life, and I was going to get this career that I wanted, and I actually did it. I feel like a breath of fresh air. Dental offices are everywhere. Someone will always need an assistant. It doesn’t seem like I’m going to be stuck again trying to find another job.”
“One of the big things I always tell my students is to have a backbone,” Ms. Flores said. “You can do this. They come in and they don’t believe in themselves. I think they sign up for school thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ During their time here, we have to be their cheerleaders and be supportive. That’s the best feeling in the world. It’s just a great feeling to see the students and where they start, and knowing their story. I knew her story. She has done so well. She really became strong.”