For Dental Assisting Student and $5,000 Scholarship Winner Persingula Gachupin, It’s All About Moving Forward—and Giving Back

feature For Dental Assisting Student and $5,000 Scholarship Winner Persingula Gachupin, It’s All About Moving Forward—and Giving BackPersingula Gachupin knows what it’s like to work hard for the money. She has cleaned hotel rooms, stood on her feet all day making deli sandwiches, and worked in corporate call centers, fielding complaints and questions from customers about their phone and cable services.   She also knows what it’s like to have a dream—and to make it come true.   In January, Persingula began the Carrington College Dental Assisting program in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In June, she was designated as a student mentor and was also awarded a prestigious $5,000 Pacific Dental Services Foundation Dr. Carolyn Ghazal Dental Assistant Scholarship. In September, after completing her externship at an orthodontic clinic, she’ll graduate with her Dental Assisting Certificate of Achievement, and begin working in a dental office.   We talked with Persingula about what fueled her interest in the dental field, her reaction to scoring a major scholarship, and how she intends to return to the reservation where she grew up to help provide Native American kids with a level of dental care she never received.      

What attracted you to Carrington’s Dental Assisting program?

When I was nine years old, a dentist came to our school on the reservation and talked to us about how to properly brush our teeth and floss. He explained the importance of good oral and dental hygiene, and it really made a lasting impression on me. It sparked my interest and curiosity in health care. I’m now a 27-year-old mother of two daughters, both under the age of five. I’m very committed to teaching them how to value their health and take the best possible care of themselves. I’m looking forward to working at a job that will allow me to help other kids, too.

Halfway through your program, you were awarded a $5,000 scholarship. That must have been a real thrill. How did that come about?

I received information about the scholarship from a Carrington career services advisor when I first enrolled. She encouraged me to apply, but I was kind of hesitant because I knew the competition would be so stiff. I decided to apply, and soon after I submitted my application I received a phone call that they wanted to interview me. I apparently did well enough in that interview, because I was invited to a second interview with members of the foundation that was offering the scholarship.   A few days later, I got a call telling me I was a finalist and there was going to be one last group video interview with all 12 finalists. I was so nervous! As soon as everyone had joined in on the call, the organizers said they had one more question for all of us to answer: “Do each of you accept the scholarship?”   It took a few seconds to sink in, but once we all realized that we’d each won a $5,000 scholarship, everyone was laughing, crying and screaming. There was a lot of joy, happiness, and relief that day.

Are you looking forward to working in a dental office?

I really am. I’m excited to begin my career, but I’m also grateful for every job I’ve had—even the ones I didn’t love. I not only learned how to work with a wide variety of people, but I also learned what I don’t want to do for a living. I was working at a casino hotel when COVID hit in March of 2020. My husband and I were both out of work for nearly a year, and it was tough financially. We had a lot of time to think about the future and what we did and didn’t want to do. We decided we both needed and wanted to develop a more marketable skillset. People will always need dental work and the demand for dental assistants will always be there. My husband is hoping to return to school soon to study nursing.

You’re a full-time student, full-time employee, a wife and a mother. How are you balancing it all and making it work?

You learn to juggle and to be efficient with your time. I work days and my husband works nights as a casino floor attendant, so that helps a lot in terms of taking care of the girls. I work 9 to 5, five days a week, and I attend classes the other two days. On class days, I study all afternoon and evening. It’s an intense schedule, but I just remind myself that I can do anything for a set period of time. By September, I’ll be done with my program and will be working in a dental office. Compared to the schedule I’m keeping now, that schedule will feel easy!

You have a very specific goal for how you plan to make a difference as a dental assistant. Tell us about it.

When I grew up on the Jemez Pueblo reservation, dental hygiene never seemed like a priority within our Native American community. As a little girl, I hardly ever went to the dentist. I remember friends either getting teeth pulled or having lots of fillings at a young age. I want to help change that so that Native American kids, elders and everyone in between has the opportunity to receive good dental care.   My mother used to tell us that because we are Native American, we live in two worlds. The reservation is a tight-knit, insulated community. When Native Americans leave the reservation, it’s often called going “outside” because leaving feels moving into another world. Even though I currently live only five miles from where I grew up, my goal is to go back “inside” to work at a clinic on the reservation. It feels like a great way to give back.

What would you say to someone who might be thinking about enrolling in the Dental Assisting program?

If it’s something you want and are willing to work for and commit to, go for it! I know it can be scary to make a big commitment, especially if your life already feels busy. I also know I’m extremely grateful that I went for it. My experience has been a very positive one that’s been great for my self-confidence. I began feeling a little unsure about how I would do, but within five months I was named a class mentor and had an opportunity to help encourage and support new students as they began their own programs. I’ve also had great instructors who really cared about my education, and I’ve really enjoyed learning and interacting with other students. I enrolled at Carrington with a goal to create a better future for myself, my family, and my community—and it’s happening!

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