Lena Sorian-Guzman’s ex-boyfriend is the reason she first enrolled at UEI College in West Covina. And in a strange way, even after she suffered mightily through episodes of domestic violence at his behest, he remains one of the biggest motivators behind Lena’s success at UEI.
It was him, after all, who first encouraged her to go back to school after her four kids became adults. All you have is yourself, he said, and people aren’t always going to be there for you.
“So, he dropped me off in front of the school and said, ‘I’ll be back in two hours,’” Lena said. “And the whole time I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, I guess I’m doing this.’”
And, she did. Lena enrolled in UEI College’s Dental Assistant program back in April, and she got to be pretty good at being a successful student. She found support and developed a level of confidence she’d never had, all of which she said became a problem back at home.
“Things happened, and [my boyfriend] just lost control,” she said. “He was telling me that I think I’m better than everybody else. I went home one day and he beat me up in front of the apartment. I left, and I left with only the clothes on my back.”
Yet she pressed on – even found motivation – in direct defiance of the person she had recently called her boyfriend. She thought about quitting, she said, but with increased support from instructors, classmates and staff at UEI College, Lena completed all her coursework while being named Student Ambassador for the West Covina campus.
She recently started her externship at a local private dental practice.
“At the time, I wanted to quit so bad, but at the end of the day, the reason why I stayed in school is because everyone was so positive,” Lena said. “It was my crutch. Everyone at the school was there to help me, and they let me know it. That school I feel saved my life, literally.”
CHASING A DESIRE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN PEOPLE’S LIVES
Lena said she tried going back to school years ago, but she gave it up to focus on raising her four daughters. She worked in retail for a while, climbing her way up to store manager. But, that’s wasn’t for her. She wanted something more.
She wanted to lift people up, and one way she felt she could do that was by helping people improve their smiles.
“Everyone deserves a pretty smile,” she said. “I don’t like to see people not smile. I’m a people person, and I figure if I can help someone better their smile, maybe that will lift them up and they will to something better and be happier in their lives.”
So, when she first visited UEI College, she was thrilled to enroll in the Dental Assistant program. And, she discovered she was pretty good at it. But then in June, her journey nearly came to a halt after she was assaulted and lost access to everything she owned.
“My clothes, uniform, shoes, makeup, earrings, facemasks, computer, pictures of my kids … everything was gone,” she said. “I ended up going to school with two black eyes.”
And, while classes were difficult as she struggled to get her life back in order, the understanding, support, and positive peer pressure she received at school kept her going.
“Everyone at school – even some of the students from the other classes – they wanted to make sure I was still going to school,” Lena said. “I wanted to give up, but everyone was like, ‘You can do it!’ That school and those teachers there … they became just like family.”
“Lena’s motivation came from within,” said Yolanda Puente-Benson, a Dental Assistant instructor in UEI College in West Covina. “She needed to know why, she needed to learn. She had a passion to absorb and understand the information. I can tell she received a joy and sense of satisfaction when she completed a skill or task. Her determination to succeed was strong.”
FINDING CONFIDENCE WHILE INSPIRING OTHERS TO SUCCEED
As Lena remained driven and successful at UEI, a funny thing happened: rather than being the one others supported, her story and her experiences began to inspire other students to overcome their own challenges and press on through school.
The faculty and staff and the West Covina campus began to recognize this, as well, and they officially made Lena a Student Ambassador. It’s a role she fully embraced.
“I say hi to everybody, and I offer to help everybody,” she said. “If anyone comes in here and they think they can’t do it, I’m the person they can look up to – see what I’ve been through – and realize they can make it through whatever’s going on in their life. I’ll be the first one to tell them this school is my rock and that they picked a good school.”
“Lena is an amazing student that will do anything to help others,” said Claudio Povero, Campus Department Chair of the Dental Assistant Program in West Covina. “She has proven to me in the Dental Assistant program that she has the perseverance to survive and be a successful individual.”
Nowadays, Lena is on to her next adventure. Done with classes, she recently began her externship module at a private practice dental clinic in Azusa. So far, she said, the experience has been a positive one.
“I’m going to be able to learn everything I want to learn in one office,” she said. “Today was my first day, and it’s like I’ve known the girls in there forever. There’s four girls that work there, and we just clicked. I’m going to ask a lot of questions, and I honestly thank god I landed here.”
Once she graduates, Lena plans to become certified as a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA), and then eventually go on to become a hygienist. “If God lets me live long enough, I’d like to become an orthodontist,” she added.
Until then, however, Lena said she’s thankful to have been around the right people at the right time while going through one of the most traumatic experiences of her life.
“At UEI, they lift you up so much,” she said. “I say be thankful for that. When you’re going to that school, everyone becomes family.”