Tiffany Curtiss knows the power of a beautiful smile first-hand. In her youth, Tiffany’s family didn’t have the resources for her to get braces. “I was really self-conscious about my smile. It bothered me regularly,” she said. “I remember wanting to do something about it for the longest time, but I put that off.”
Unfortunately, braces weren’t the only thing that the Ontario, California native had to put on hold. Just days before her 18th birthday, Tiffany’s father passed away unexpectedly. Her mother had struggled with addiction and was incarcerated, so Tiffany took legal custody of her four younger siblings. She had long been a caretaker for them as the oldest sibling, but this was a whole new level of responsibility for the teenager.
“I was planning on joining the Marines when I turned 18, but I wasn’t comfortable leaving my siblings after our dad passed away. A couple days after his death, my family decided that I take my siblings, or they would be put up for adoption. I went to court and requested to be emancipated so I could legally take custody and try to give them a better life,” Tiffany said.
Tiffany worked hard to raise her brothers and sisters, and eventually got married. Today, she is the mother of two daughters. Those feelings about her smile persisted, and at age 30 she decided to do something about it.
“I had a decent job and I was able to go see an orthodontist for the first time in my life when I was 30,” Tiffany said. “There’s a lot behind your smile. It plays a big part in who you are. It’s about confidence and self-esteem, and projects back to your overall personality and how people perceive you. When you like your smile, you want to smile more.”
“If you’ve ever had braces, you know how amazing it is the day they come off. I remember getting back to my car after that last appointment and looking in the mirror; I was overcome with emotions. I was just so happy. I definitely smile more,” she said.
Making Up For Lost Time During the Pandemic
She didn’t know it at the time, but Tiffany’s positive experience with ortho treatment did more than straighten her smile and boost her self-esteem; it would inspire her to pursue a dental career.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Tiffany was laid off from her position at an electronics recycling company. With her daughters attending school remotely from home, Tiffany decided she would take advantage of the situation and go back to school herself.
“I talked with my husband about the situation and it was clear that things were going to be disrupted for a while, so I decided to seize the moment and finish my GED,” she said. “One way or another, I wanted to emerge from the pandemic as a better person. I didn’t want to just sit around the house being unemployed.”
Tiffany not only finished her GED, but she also started college-level courses working towards an associate’s degree. During that process, she started thinking about what type of career she wanted to pursue.
“I did a whole lot of research and kept coming back to the dental assistant program at UEI College,” she said. “I thought about how my own experience with my smile was such a positive thing in my life, and helping people have healthy smiles would be rewarding work, so I decided to enroll.”
“I love going to school. I was able to make the best of the situation and I want to keep going,” she added. Tiffany is simultaneously attending UEI and pursing an associate’s degree in general education with the long-term goal of becoming a dental hygienist.
“Tiffany is a person with positive values, characteristics, and work ethics. During her time here at UEI College she has demonstrated that she is a very honest and reliable student. Not only has her character and personality shined through with being a part of our ambassador program but as well as with her own peers and instructor. Tiffany has shown she is capable of being THAT team player and will definitely be a capable dental assistant when she graduates,” said DA Instructor Cecil Ureta.
A Scholarship to Smile About
Tiffany learned about various scholarships available to dental assistant students and applied for several of them, including one offered by the Pacific Dental Services Foundation (PDSF). Tiffany was interviewed by the scholarship selection committee after submitting an essay and learned she was named as a finalist.
“I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the scholarship applications but figured it was worth the time and effort,” Tiffany said. “I was totally ecstatic when I got the email that I was selected as a finalist for the PDSF one.”
A few days later, Tiffany was surprised on a Zoom call when it was announced that she, as well as 21 other finalists – including three other UEI students – were all being selected as 2020 recipients of the Dr. Carolyn Ghazal Dental Assistant Scholarship, awarded by the Pacific Dental Services Foundation.
Recognizing the importance of dental assistants to the future of dentistry, the Pacific Dental Services Foundation created the Dr. Carolyn Ghazal Dental Assistant 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. Over the past few years the Pacific Dental Services Foundation has given over $450,000 in scholarships to DA students, including several from UEI College.
“The scholarship provides students with financial support and mentorship as they pursue a career in dental assisting,” said Dr. Carolyn Ghazal, Chair of Associate Dentist Development at PDS University – Institute of Dentistry. “My hope is that it will make a significant impact in the life of a DA student and foster their professional and personal development.”
“I am so excited and grateful about this scholarship. Thank you so very much,” Tiffany said. “Having the opportunity is just incredible. What a great program to be a part of. I’m even more excited about my future because of this scholarship and mentor program.”
“I could not be happier that she was chosen for this scholarship. With Tiffany’s professionalism and hardworking nature, I strongly believe she will have the same enthusiasm for herself and future,” Cecil said.
“Congratulations to Tiffany on being selected as a recipient of the Pacific Dental Services Foundation Dr. Carolyn Ghazal Dental Assistant Scholarship! Tiffany not only exhibited a passion for the career but a passion for serving others. It is a pleasure to support students on their way to accomplishing their goals,” said Kyle Guerin, Executive Director of the Pacific Dental Services Foundation.
“Tiffany is a great example of the type of student that succeeds at UEI College, she has grit, determination and a burning desire to give her family and her future patients a better life,” said Richard Kwon, Campus President at UEI College Ontario. “We are thrilled she was selected by the Foundation for this scholarship and have every confidence that she will thrive in the profession.”
For Tiffany, getting braces and pursuing a college education had to wait until she was an adult. But, now that everything is aligned, she certainly has a brighter smile.
For more information, visit www.pdsfoundation.org.