female UEI college student

Fresno Dental Assistant Student Wants You to Smile

Yesenia Martinez was selected for a $5,000 scholarship and mentoring program from the Pacific Dental Services Foundation

When Yesenia Martinez was a little girl, there was little doubt in her mind that she wanted to work in the dentistry field when she grew up. She loved going to the dentist, sure, but she also saw how her mom’s lack of access to certain dentistry procedures affected her self-confidence.

“My mom never really wanted to smile because she has crowded teeth,” Yesenia said, referring to a condition caused when the teeth don’t have ample room in the mouth to grow. “And, she could never really afford getting braces.

“So when I was younger, I told my mom that one day, I’m going to fix her teeth and I’m going to help others smile again.”

At age 19 and a student in UEI College’s Dental Assistant Program, Yesenia is already well on her way to achieving her goal. And, thanks to the hard work she’s put into her education and the leadership she’s shown in the classroom, the financial burden of pursuing this education is now much less than it was.

That’s because recently, Yesenia was named a 2020 recipient of the Dr. Carolyn Ghazal Dental Assistant Scholarship, awarded by the Pacific Dental Services® Foundation. She was awarded $5,000 and will take part in a unique mentorship program.

Established to recognize the important role dental assistants play in the future of dentistry, the Pacific Dental Services Foundation created this 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.

The Foundation has provided more than $600,000 in scholarship funds to dental assistant students, including several other students from UEI College campus locations in California.

“It felt amazing to get this scholarship. I felt so honored,” Yesenia said. “I was happy for everyone on the call. And in my head, I was just screaming, full of excitement. It takes a huge stress off my shoulders … a huge weight just lifted off me.”

“Congratulations to Yesenia on being selected as a recipient of the Pacific Dental Services Foundation Dr. Carolyn Ghazal Dental Assistant Scholarship!” said Kyle Guerin, Executive Director of the Pacific Dental Services Foundation. “Yesenia is a driven student and exhibits a great passion for giving back to her community. We look forward to watching these students grow in their careers.”

“We are elated that Yesenia was selected as a scholarship recipient and thank the Foundation,” said Ada Clower, Campus President at UEI College Fresno. “She truly deserves it, and we know she will make all of us at UEI proud.”

Overcoming Adversity

Yesenia said she has always viewed education as her top priority. Even after having kids, she admits that education is still a very close second in her hierarchy of life’s concerns.

“I had a really tough childhood growing up, and so the only thing I really focused on ever is school and wanting to graduate,” she said. “All I ever wanted was a good education because I wanted to do something with my life.”

Yesenia’s childhood included some troubling years that led to her caring for herself at a very early age. At the age of 14, she became officially emancipated, something she handled with a level of maturity and responsibility well beyond her years.

“Being emancipated, I was always having to be on top of things, be on top of schedules, be on top of appointments, and be on top of going to school,” she said. “The only person I had was myself, and the only thing I wanted for myself was an education.”

In fact, she looked at her high school teachers as members of her “second family” — people who she looked forward to being around and who were always there to provide a level of friendship and mentorship she couldn’t get from her parents.

Yesenia said the high level of independence she experienced at such a young age, coupled with the influence she received from important educators in her life, helped her to become a natural leader and mentor.

“That’s what happens when you grow up fast, and that’s what made me who I am today,” she said.

Motivated for Success

Yesenia said she feels that this leadership quality was one of the attributes that put her in line to receive the Dr. Carolyn Ghazal Dental Assistant Scholarship.

“I’m usually the first person to be on top of things, to finish, and to help others when they need it,” she said. “I think that’s what [The Pacific Dental Services Foundation] saw in me — the potential and the drive that I had to pursue my dream. That being said, they wanted to help me pursue my dream.”

Like in high school, Yesenia says the instructors at UEI have been instrumental in ensuring that she’s not only getting a good education, but she also has a support system around her for when she needs it. Instructors Janet Gutierrez and Noah Replogle, specifically, have provided the structure she needs to be successful now, as well as in the future.

“Congratulations to Yesenia for being selected as a scholarship recipient. She will be a great dental assistant and we know she’ll make us proud,” Noah said.

“I have enjoyed watching her take initiative in lab, making sure things are done timely and safely working in a team,” Janet said. “Yesenia is willing to take responsibility demonstrating an encouraging, compassionate personality amongst her peers. As an educator who is committed to helping deserving students succeed, I am overjoyed for her achievement.”

In addition to her instructors, Yesenia’s kids (ages 3 and 1) provide her with an additional level of motivation. She’s no longer on her own, and while her kids may be too young to realize the impact of what she’s doing, Yesenia says they encourage her in ways they may never fully realize.

“They motivate me more than ever … more than I motivate myself,” she said. “I look at them and I’m like, god, I need to do this for them so they don’t grow up the way I did.”

Yesenia has a little more than a month left of classes before she starts her externship. Then, after graduating, she plans to get a job and save some money before potentially furthering her education to become a dental hygienist. 

Earning the Dr. Carolyn Ghazal Dental Assistant Scholarship could possibly speed up this process for her.

“I tell people, take a risk — take a shot – -because you just never know what could happen for you in the long run,” she said.

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