Faculty Spotlight: Celina Fimbres at UEI College Sacramento

Teaching Future Dental Assistants Helps UEI Instructor Rediscover Her Passion

All successful teachers have a secret weapon – that one quality they can always turn to when the going gets tough. It helps them power through challenges, keep their classrooms focused and learning, and ultimately make a difference in students’ educational journeys.

For Celina Fimbres, instructor and new Campus Department Chair of the Dental Assistant program at UEI College in Sacramento, that go-to power is relatability.

“I relate to all of them,” Celina said of her Dental Assistant students. “I’m the single mother with the two children. I personally go to school, too, online at night. And, I’m the person they come to when they find it hard and tough – a lot of them also single mothers – because they know I go to school just like them.”

Celina also knows what it’s like to be a young adult not knowing what she wants to do in life. And at a professional level, she’s also intimately familiar with the life and career for which she’s training her students.

For nearly two decades, Celina was a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) who managed both back- and front-office duties while working her way up to assistant office manager at her last job. She spent years training new dental assistants on the ins and outs of the position, essentially serving as a mentor for people who aspire to follow a similar career path.

So, when she transitioned into teaching by accepting a position as a UEI College Dental Assistant Program Instructor back in 2019, the move felt relatively seamless. Not only that, but teaching the trade allowed her to rediscover the passion she’s always had for dental assisting.

“It really is a passion for me,” Celina said. “I really enjoy what I do. Twenty years ago, I was in the same position these students were in. To now give back what I know – the tips and tricks I learned along the way – I love being able to pay it forward.”

Finding Direction in the Dentistry Field

As a high school student, Celina recalls struggling to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. She was expressing this frustration at a family barbecue when an older cousin, an RDA, asked her if she ever considered a career in dentistry.

According to Celina, this fell in line with the career direction she had begun to consider.

“I knew I wanted to work in health – somewhere in the health care world,” she said. “I liked working with people. I was just young and didn’t know what to do. So, I tried [dental assisting] out, and it became a passion for me. I loved working with the people and caught on quickly.”

As she developed her skills and experience, she began to excel in the field. She became an expert in both front- and back-office management, and she enjoyed taking the lead in training dental assistants new to the clinic … and oftentimes the field of dentistry as a whole.

She also grew particularly fond of working in pediatric dentistry, something she did for 8 years. Celina said she just had a way of getting kids to cooperate when others struggled during checkups and procedures.

“I was able to do a lot of things with kids that a lot of other Dental Assistants weren’t able to do,” she said. “I think it was my personality and being able to talk to children and understand them.”

After two decades working as a Dental Assistant, however, Celina desired more from her career. Then working as an assistant office manager, she felt she was outgrowing the job she loved. So, when she saw an advertisement that said UEI College was seeking instructors for their Dental Assistant program, Celina saw a chance to utilize her experience in a different way: by empowering others.

Rediscovering Her Passion as a UEI College Instructor

Celina began teaching at UEI College in Sacramento in the fall of 2019. And, after learning the curriculum and reacquainting herself with some of the more scholastic terminology, she said the transition into teaching felt natural.

She simply tapped into her experience teaching new Dental Assistants in the clinic, which required an understanding that not everyone absorbs information and instruction in the same way.

“Just because one student learns the way I teach doesn’t mean every one of them can pick it up that way,” she said. “So, being able to teach in a different style so others can catch on – being ambidextrous in a way – is important.”

One way Celina does this is by incorporating creative activities into her teaching. By turning classroom instruction into a more hands-on experience, she’s able to get through to more students who perhaps don’t learn as well from just a textbook.

She is also able to relate to students on a personal level, especially other single mothers who struggle to create and maintain a balance between their personal, work and student lives. As a single mom herself, one who’s currently striving to earn an advanced degree, Celina can relate to the difficulties.

“I get up with my kids, too, in the morning, sit at my kitchen table with them and we do homework,” she said. “I cook breakfast, and then we all go to school. As a single parent, I remind my students that they’re being looked at from their children. Your kids see you doing better, and they’re going to want to be better.”

As a new instructor, Celina said she’s also been looked after by someone who, early on, had her success and best interests in mind. Former Sacramento Campus Department Chair (CDC) Laci Salinas, who’s now the Associate Director of Education, has taken Celina under her wing since day one.

This, she said, has greatly helped in her transition into the new department chair.

“Since the day I started, she has had me work closely with her,” Celina said. “A lot of the things this job entails I had already been doing since [Laci] has kept me close to her, teaching me the ins and outs of the CDC position. And, if I have little problems, she’s still on campus to help me out.”

Laci said she has a similar level of admiration for Celina.

“Celina has been more than willing to learn, help and grow into her position as CDC,” Laci said. “She hit the ground running here at UEI as an Instructor and now CDC, she hasn’t stopped, yet. Celina has great rapport with students and her staff. She is kind-hearted and understanding.”

But, whether new incoming instructor or chair of the department, Celina said the biggest thrill thus far at UEI College has remained consistent.

“When the students are on their last mod and they go out to their extern site, the thing that makes it the most rewarding to me is texting them at the end of their first day to see how it went,” she said. “To hear the excitement and the thank yous … just to hear them be excited about what they’re doing and where they’re going in life is super rewarding.”

“We are thrilled to have Celina on our team in Sacramento,” said Belinda Alcid, Campus President at UEI College Sacramento. “She embodies the type of instructor and colleague that is obsessed with student success.”

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