For Portland Dental Assisting Grad Alexis Casarez, Scoring a $5,000 Scholarship Made a Great College Experience Even Better
There are Zoom video calls, and there are great Zoom video calls.
Alexis Casarez, who completed her Dental Assisting program at Carrington’s Portland, Oregon campus in April, knows the difference.
When she was invited to log on to a Zoom video call one morning in March, a month before graduation, Alexis was surprised to learn she’d won a $5,000 Dr. Carolyn Ghazal Dental Assistant Scholarship from the Pacific Dental Services Foundation. She was understandably thrilled.
“That was one of the best Zoom calls I’ve ever been on,” says Alexis, 21. “I applied for the scholarship in February and did a phone interview with the selection committee a few weeks later. I was then asked to log onto a Zoom call for what I thought was a follow-up interview, but it turned out to be a conference call where all of the scholarship recipients were told we’d been selected. I was so surprised—and grateful.”
For Alexis, it was powerful validation—and a reminder that you can’t win if you’re not in the game.
“I’m the first person in my family to go to college,” Alexis explains. “I have three younger siblings, and I want to show them that you can do whatever you want to do—and be whoever you want to be—if you’re willing to apply yourself and work hard. For me, receiving the scholarship was proof that it’s true. That kind of recognition and support can really help you keep going.”
We talked with Alexis about what attracted her to the field of dentistry, what surprised her most about her experience in the Dental Assisting program, and how she landed a full-time job in the field before she had even completed her program.
How did you first hear about Carrington? What motivated you to enroll in the Dental Assisting program?
I originally moved to Portland from Spokane, Washington to go to college to become a teacher. But after taking some classes, it just didn’t feel like it would be the right long-term career choice for me. I had heard about Carrington from several high school friends who had completed the Medical Radiography program, so I checked out the website to see what other programs they offered. The Dental Assisting program really interested me, so I scheduled a meeting to learn more. Everything happened pretty quickly. Within a month after I applied, I was attending my first classes.
What kind of work were you doing before you became a dental assistant?
I worked for nearly four years in the clothing department of a major retail chain. It wasn’t a bad college job, but for me, it wasn’t a career. I was tired of folding t-shirts and knowing that every day was pretty much going to be the same. That’s not what I wanted for my life. I wanted a career with better income, regular hours, and benefits. I wanted to feel like what I was doing mattered and was somehow making a difference. I knew I was capable of more.
What attracted you to a career in dentistry?
As a little girl, I was very self-conscious about my teeth and my smile. I’m the third of six kids. I come from a low-income family, and I didn’t always have the best dental care. Now that I’m an adult, I really want to help educate parents about proper dental care and hygiene so that other kids don’t feel the way I did and can hopefully feel good about themselves and their smiles.
What surprised you most about the Dental Assisting program?
I never expected the level of individual attention I received from my teachers. It was obvious they cared about their students. They were very open and flexible, and there were times they came in and met with us outside of regular class hours. It felt great to know they really wanted us to succeed.
Before I enrolled at Carrington, I attended a community college. It felt much more competitive and less personal. It was a lot harder to meet people, and nobody worked together. At Carrington, the atmosphere was much more supportive and friendly. I’ve made some friends at Carrington that I think will be in my life for a long time. Creating those kinds of relationships is a great side benefit that I never expected.
You landed your current job as a dental assistant before you even graduated. How did that happen?
The dental office where I was doing my six-week externship offered me a full-time position after my third week, and I became an employee as soon as I finished the program and got my certification. It felt so great to know I would already have a job when I graduated.
So what’s it like to be working as a dental assistant?
I really love it! I’m mostly assisting our dental hygienist, but I also work with the dentists, assisting them as they do fillings and crowns. I also take x-rays, sterilize equipment, and prepare the treatment room for procedures. I really enjoy interacting with our patients. You meet all kinds of people, so it keeps things interesting. No two days are ever the same. I actually look forward to going to work, which is something I never could say when I was working in retail.
What would you like to be doing in five years?
My plan is to become a dental hygienist. I just signed up for classes at Portland Community College to complete some prerequisite courses, and then I’ll enroll in a dental hygiene program.
What would you tell someone who might be thinking about enrolling in Carrington’s Dental Assisting program?
If it interests you, I’d say do it! It’s a great program that prepared me for a career I really love. For me, the learning environment at Carrington was great because it always felt more collaborative than competitive, which I liked a lot. It never felt like it was about one person trying to outshine another. I really appreciated that kind of team energy. It was about each of us making it—and succeeding together.