Faculty Spotlight: Teaching the Skills to Make Students Successful

When students come into Sherisse Decanio’s Dental Assistant classroom on the UEI College Fresno campus, she knows there will be struggles ahead of them, but her ultimate goal is to help them learn the dental and life skills they will use for the rest of their lives.

“I always tell them, ‘Don’t let what you are currently going through stop you from your ultimate goal,’ ” Sherisse said. “Things don’t get easier; you just get better. The hardest part is just showing up. It’s just about putting the time and effort in. No matter what you are going through, push through it to the end of the day when you finally get to your goal. It will be worth it.”

At first, helping students overcome their personal struggles to be able to learn was a challenge for Sherisse. Now, it’s her favorite part of teaching.

“Teaching dentistry was easy because I know dental, but it was the different students that we teach that was a little bit of a struggle,” she said. “Once I understood our whole goal is making sure they are successful and understanding their backgrounds and where they come from, I learned to love not only teaching them dental skills, but life skills and soft skills too. Sometimes you are the only person they talk to or the only person that can listen to them. I really liked that part.”

Sherisse has been teaching dental assisting since 2018. At the time, she had been working as a dental assistant for more than a decade and was put in charge of teaching and training new dental assistants that the office hired.

“It just got me into loving that and teaching the students,” she said. “It was a nice change. I was teaching them there in the field. I got a feel for how it was to teach, and I started looking into teaching more.”

As an instructor, Sherisse always tries to teach her students using real-life examples from her 18 years of dental experience, but it’s the way she interacts with students that really has an impact.

“She goes above and beyond for her students,” said Michael Credille, associate director of education at Fresno. “When her students are frustrated, getting upset because they don’t understand the curriculum or it’s hard for them to do, she has the class do other stuff while she takes care of the student. She spends that one-on-one time with that student to make sure every single student gets what they need and understands what she is teaching. She loves what she does. She has a passion for teaching and a passion for dental.”

That passion comes from not only years of practicing dental, but also years as a patient.

“I was one of those patients that had the ugly teeth,” Sherisse said. “I was always in the dental chair. I had ortho, I had braces, I had broken and fractured silver teeth. Going into dental offices all the time and seeing and learning about braces got me interested in the field. Knowing how it made me feel, from where I started to where I ended and how my teeth feel, it was a good feeling. That’s what really got me into it.”

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Sherisse decided to make a career out of her interest soon after high school. From 2000 to 2018, she worked in the field and then started teaching. She has taught at other schools but said UEI feels different.

“From the moment you walk in, you get a smile at the front desk,” she said. “I remember when I came back after working at another school and someone said, ‘Welcome home.’ It’s just that atmosphere, not only for employees but for students too. They feel like they are at home. No matter what they have going on outside of school, this is a safe place, and everyone here will help them be successful. If we can’t provide the help, we have tons of resources we can give to them to help them.”

At the end of the day, it’s about helping students be successful.

“The biggest thing for me as an instructor is knowing I helped you and pushed you along and helped you walk across that stage on graduation day,” Sherisse said. “When they are your own students, you know the background story on them, and you know what it takes for them to get here. You help them and push them through and when you finally see them walk on stage, it is the most rewarding thing you can see.”

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