Grad Q&A with Dental Assisting Valedictorian Chrystal Sarnowski

Twenty minutes before her graduation from the Dental Assisting program in May 2022, Chrystal Sarnowski found out she was graduating with a 4.0. She had already been asked to speak in front of her friends and younger peers at the ceremony and tell her story of how she got to where she was that day. “It’s not every day you get asked to do that. Pretty amazing feeling” she said. She spoke to her classmates telling it like it was: “When I think back on where my life has been and where it was headed, it is hard to picture myself living on the streets of Southern California – being homeless with my significant other and our daughter, who at the time was only two years old. In May 2016 we made a huge life changing decision to leave the San Fernando Valley and relocate here to Mesa, Arizona for a job opportunity for my partner.  I began working two jobs seven days a week, leaving home at 5:15am and sometimes not coming home until 11pm. I wanted something better for myself and my family. I was inspired by a close friend, a single mother of three who returned to school. In May of 2021, I decided to make that phone call to Carrington College.” That phone call changed her life. The woman on the other end of the phone said she could sign her up that day and she could start tomorrow, or in six weeks. Chrystal thought, “if I don’t start right then, I may find a reason not to go. After completing the paperwork with [Enrollment Services and Financial Services], I dove right in and started the very next day. I had been out of school for 18 years. I was nervous and scared walking in, but I chose a seat in the very front of the class – I didn’t want to miss a thing. I knew the journey for me was a sink or swim situation and I couldn’t let my family down.” This is her story.  

Tell me about yourself.

I grew up in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. My dad was from Missouri and my mom was from California. I lived in Missouri until I turned 23 and moved to Los Angeles. I met my husband through a mutual friend in 2007. His name is Damien. We started dating in 2008 and four years later we had our daughter Maggie in March of 2012. We also have a son, Micah who was born in November 2014.  

Why did you choose the Dental Assisting program?

I chose the Dental Assisting program because I wanted to learn how to take care of my teeth; they were pretty messed up. I also wanted to teach my children to care for their teeth.  Ultimately, I liked the idea of learning how to help give others their smiles back.  

Tell us about your classroom experience at Carrington.

I went to class two days a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Because I was working, I always recorded my classes and took notes so I could review it later that night when I had time to study. I paid attention to the reviews before tests. I was asked to be a student mentor. That means to be someone students can go to and study with and advise them on what order to do things. I always arrived early in the mornings to be available to students who needed help.  Every Thursday was a test, so I would get there early and stand in front of the class and review the material before the instructor arrived.  I really liked doing it; it helped everyone else as well as myself.  

How was your externship?

While I was a student, I lost my primary job. So I applied online looking for dental assisting positions before my externship came up. I used one of those online business sites you can post ads on? An orthodontics practice in Scottsdale called Faces Orthodontics emailed me back for a “working” interview – that means you do the job for a while and get an opportunity to prove yourself. They were impressed with my knowledge and since two receptionists had recently quit, offered me a position as the receptionist until my externship came up. When it was time for externship, I went to Miss Becky, the Career Services Advisor, and asked her if I could use the job I had as my externship. They toured the office, did the paperwork, and approved the facility. When I moved from the receptionist position to a full time Dental Assistant, I started out learning to sterilize, then setting up trays, then learning how to deliver retainers and aligners and do retainer checks. When I had that down, I then moved to doing wire changes and power-chain replacements. Shortly after my externship ended, I was offered a full time position as a Treatment Coordinator and Lab Tech. I’m still working there full-time.  

What was the most challenging thing about going to Carrington?

Balancing being a mom and studying. Finding the time to study. Since I started in May 2021, we were in the middle of the COVID pandemic, which meant my kids were home schooled. I’d teach them in the morning, then go to class, then work. Most nights the kids were in bed before I would return from work, so I would study until 11 or 12 midnight.  

What was your favorite thing about Carrington?

I loved to volunteer at their events, like Walk for Breast Cancer. I loved being a part of something, proud of being a Carrington student, wearing their T shirt!  

You’ve really had to work hard – from working those long hours before you started Carrington, and then getting through the program with two kids at home during the pandemic. How did you stay motivated?

Life is not always a bed of roses. There are thorn patches. I had a drug habit in those hard days. But I am not ashamed of recovery. When I entered Carrington, I was the oldest student in my class; I was in my thirties and most everyone else was about 18 years old or so. But I learned that anything is possible. You can come back from it. Now, I have a wonderful family; I have a husband, I’m the wife and mother of two kids, and we even have a dog named Chance! Going to Carrington changed my entire life; it’s the best decision I ever made.  

Is there any advice you would like to give to potential students who are looking at Dental Assisting as a field to study?

If you have compassion that’s a good quality for Dental Assisting. Make sure it’s something you really want to do.  And then, when you’re in the program, my motto was “Suit up and Show up!” Even when you don’t feel well. Or if you’re cramming for a test. Be present. Be there. And soak it up. If you put your all into it, it will change your life.

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