Cassandra De La Paz vividly recalls the day she decided to turn her life around. In fact, she remembers the exact moment.
She was sitting in her car about to go clean a house as part of a job she’d recently acquired. As she sat there, she thought about her four boys, wondering how she was going to support them long-term as a single mom. Cleaning houses or working retail just wasn’t going to cut it.
Yet, she felt trapped due to her limited education and experience. Cassandra was a high school dropout, and through most of her 20s – prior to a divorce – she was a military wife. Now, she needed a career of her own, and she recalled how she once dreamed of working in dentistry.
“I was saying to myself, ‘What’s stopping me from doing this now?’” Cassandra said. “What’s the big block in my life stopping me from doing it? I wasn’t happy, so I knew I had to make a change and that going to UEI was something I had to do.”
Cassandra had heard about UEI College and was familiar with the school. So, once she’d decided to further her education – and with her step-mom by her side for support – she called UEI’s Garden Grove campus to make an appointment.
Two days letter, she visited the school and enrolled in UEI Garden Grove’s Dental Assistant Program. She graduated from the program in January, having earned excellent grades and perfect attendance.
Today, she works full-time at a dental clinic she loves, and Cassandra says she’s in the process of studying for the test to become a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA).
“Thinking about that day in the car, feeling so low about what I was doing and not being able to provide for my kids … what a turnaround,” she said.
Helping Herself to Help Others
Once Cassandra’s first classes started at UEI, she threw herself wholeheartedly into the program.
“I said to myself that this is what I’m doing and nothing’s stopping me,” she said. “Besides school and work, I pretty much cut everything from my life.”
This sacrifice included letting her four boys live with their dad during her schooling, which was difficult despite still making it a point to see them every day. As she still had to support herself, Cassandra also continued to work full-time in retail, sometimes taking homework with her to work on during breaks.
“When I think back to it, it’s just crazy to think that’s all I did for those months – school, kids, work, homework and repeat … every day,” she said.
She had her sights set on not just earning a living, but also on her dream career. She’s always “had a thing for teeth” – the way they help people make positive first impressions – and she one day envisioned herself working as a dental hygienist.
And, she was attracted to the idea of being able to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
“Ultimately, the goal when you’re an adult is you want to do what you love,” Cassandra said. “You want to wake up every day excited to go to work. And, what I like to do is help others.”
Overwhelmed with Happiness & Support
Cassandra said she got through school by creating strict routines and by following the leadership of some great instructors. Specifically, dental assistant instructors Joeimee Hugo and Martha Flores, she said, were instrumental in ensuring she felt supported both personally and educationally.
“I mean, there’s not even enough words to explain to you how supportive and helpful those two instructors were,” she said. “They would go above and beyond to make sure their students get what they pay for and more. Most of the time, it was more.”
“Cassandra came to school every day with a smile and positive attitude,” said Martha, who serves as the Dental Assistant Department Chair at the Garden Grove campus. “She was our class ambassador and she wore her uniform with a lot of pride. I am so proud of the professional Dental Assistant she has become.”
Cassandra said all students were encouraged to reach out to instructors when they had questions or needed any additional support. That meant a lot, she said.
“Knowing you have someone there to help… it was piece of mind,” she said.
Cassandra’s focus to succeed seemingly had no limits. Even before her classroom instruction was complete and it was time to start the externship phase of the program, she was already job hunting. This led to a job offer at a local clinic before she even finished classes.
“They interviewed and hired me the same day knowing that I was still in school finishing my lab hours,” she said. “I did my externship with them.”
“I’m so overwhelmed with happiness being here because I’m learning so much,” she said. “I’m experiencing so much, and I’m so grateful for it. I’ve been so fortunate to have surrounded myself with people who truly want me to succeed.”
“I believe success is not a coincidence, nor an accident,” Joeimee said. “It is hard work, perseverance, sacrifice, loving what you do and wanting to go above and beyond…and you she did all that. Just keep going, aim high and never stop. I am truly proud of you, Cass!”