Overcoming Addiction was the First Step Toward a Brighter Future

Kiyana Knuppel’s current reality, working as a dental assistant and providing for her two children, is shockingly different from the life she was living just two years ago. With the help of an addiction recovery program and career training from UEI College in Chula Vista, things are finally looking up.

Kiyana recalls when her addiction started at the young age of 13. Throughout her teenage years she spent time in juvenile detention and struggled to free herself from the pull of drugs and alcohol. She managed to hold jobs occasionally, at hotels or as a waitress, but having children changed things for her.

“I had my first son, and was pregnant with my second one, and I knew I needed to make a change because I couldn’t pay rent working these other jobs,” she said. “I have to shoot for something higher.”

In 2019, Kiyana decided to get clean and stay clean. At an addiction recovery program, she met a girl who was attending UEI College. Kiyana had always had an interest in the dental field and decided to give the Dental Assistant Program at UEI a chance. She began classes in 2021.


The first few weeks in the program were a little intimidating for her.

“I remember being in school before and the days I did go to school I needed that extra help and that extra guidance,” said Kiyana. “At UEI they made sure I was on top of things. They helped and guided. They were very supportive.”

“Kiyana saw that she had people in her corner who were not giving up on her,” said Ronda Buchanan, Senior Career Services Specialist at UEI Chula Vista. “Even when she was having a hard day, she had a village to keep her motivated. When she was ready to give up a little bit, she had a village of people lifting her up.”

That support made all the difference.

“They really want you to graduate. They want you to change your life and be better,” she said. “I know I’m not the only one who struggled. That was the most amazing part. They don’t want you to fail. They’re there for you to rise up. All the support from the teachers and counselors and staff and everything, it was very cool.”

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Kiyana was able to stay on the honor roll her entire time at UEI. Eventually she was asked to be a student ambassador and help other students who were struggling. At the end of her externship, Kiyana was hired as a dental assistant.

“I had a follow up update with the extern site and they just loved her,” said Ronda. “They loved her attitude, her personality and her drive. She did it. As a single mom of two, coming from struggling in her life, she just did it. She was just so wonderful.”

Kiyana said she’s still a work in progress, but that progress continues every day.

“I still go through my life on my terms, but I remember how hard I worked for things,” she said. “I do deserve this, and it is worth it. Everything happens for a reason. I put my footwork in. I have to cut myself a little bit of slack and not be too hard on myself but also not get too comfortable. I need to remember that at any given time I could go back to that or worse and it’s not worth it.”

When you’ve come out on the other side of a struggle, you realize nothing can hold you back but yourself. That was Kiyana’s experience.

“A lot of our fears stop us from doing something great in our lives,” she said. “If I was to speak out to somebody, I would say go for it. Do it. It will all work out as long as you put in the work and do what you want to do for your career. I’m happy I went through this program.”

If you’re interested in becoming a dental assistant, consider enrolling in UEI College’s Dental Assisting Program. Learn how to become a dental assistant!

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