Grad Q&A with Three-Time Carrington Graduate Ernest Kallal
Ask Ernest Kallal about his experience at Carrington College and he’s likely to answer with a question: “Which one?”
That’s because Ernest, 28, has graduated from three Carrington programs. He completed his Dental Assisting certificate program at the Pomona, California campus in 2015. While working as a certified dental assistant, he returned to Carrington to earn his Associates Degree in Dental Assisting at the Sacramento campus. That program prepared him for enrolling in the Associates in Dental Hygiene program, which Ernest completed in July, 2022. He’s now working as a registered dental hygienist for a Vacaville dental practice.
“If you’d asked me when I graduated high school what I’d be doing for a living in ten years, I wouldn’t have predicted this,” says Ernest. “Back then, I was an 18-year-old gay kid with dreams of pursuing a career in musical theater. But let’s just say my parents were much more practical than I was, so that didn’t happen. It was probably for the best. Instead, I ended up enlisting in the Navy Reserves.”
After a six-year stint with the Navy, during which he was trained as a dental assistant, Ernest faced a big question: What next?
“I had a strong foundation and lots of practical experience as a dental assistant, but the military doesn’t require the same licensing you need in the civilian world,” Ernest explains. “I knew I’d need to return to school, so I scheduled a campus visit at Carrington to learn about the Dental Assisting certificate program. I applied the same day.”
We talked with Ernest about his experiences at Carrington, what he’s learned during the process of pursuing his education, and how winning a statewide scholarship gave him a big boost when he needed it most.
When you enrolled in the Dental Hygiene program in 2021, it started out a little rocky. What happened?
Because the COVID lockdown of 2020 delayed the previous cohorts from advancing as they normally would, the start of my program was delayed three months. I was also going through a divorce at the time, working in a dental office during COVID, and experiencing a lot of financial hardship. I almost lost my apartment. It was a really challenging time, but my sister, who I was living with at the time, was so supportive and kept telling me to hang in there, because one day soon, it would all be worth it. As it turned out, she was right!
Once classes started, what was your experience at Carrington like? What did you like most about it?
I really loved it! The education and training I received at Carrington prepared me for clinical practice, and the Dental Hygiene faculty included some of the best teachers I’ve ever had.
You got some good news as you were nearing the end of your program. What happened?
I did! I was still struggling financially and was concerned about how I was going to pay for my board exams once I completed my program. It was a big worry, because you have to take the board exam in order to get licensed as a dental hygienist in the state of California.
My instructor told me about the Cora Euland Scholarship, which awards four annual $1,500 scholarships to California dental hygiene students. The application process required me to write two essays. I submitted my application in March 2022. A month or so later, I received an email inviting me to attend the CDHA conference in May in Sacramento. They didn’t tell me I’d won, but they definitely encouraged me to attend, so I was optimistic but still uncertain. I went, and during one of the conference luncheons, they announced the scholarship recipients—and I was one of them! After everything I’d gone through, it felt so great! I no longer had to worry about how I was going to pay for my board exams.
What other kinds of jobs did you do before becoming a dental hygienist? What did you learn from those experiences that you took with you into your new position?
Being in the Navy Reserves helped me develop a sense of discipline and focus that I think will always prove valuable. I learned how to work with all different kinds of people. While I was doing my dental hygiene program, I worked for a year at a wedding venue as an event server. When you work 100 weddings, you learn a lot about interacting with all kinds of personalities. I learned good time management, how to multi-task, and how to communicate more clearly and effectively. Those kinds of ‘people skills’ translate into any job, including being a dental hygienist.
What did you learn about yourself while completing three programs at Carrington?
I’ve realized that everything life throws at you is a lesson and an opportunity to grow. There’s always a way to overcome your problems and find a solution. No matter how stressed you feel, there’s always a glimmer of hope and a silver lining. Even when things were really tough for me and was feeling a lot of self-doubt, I just kept thinking “I’m going to make it. I AM going to do this.” That determination carried me through.
What advice would you give someone who might be thinking about enrolling in the Dental Hygiene program?
I think it’s really important to do your homework before you commit your time, money, and energy to any program. Talk with people who are already successful in the career you’re considering. Find out what they like and don’t like about it. Research all the various job options within the field so you know what opportunities will be available once you earn your certificate or degree.
If you want something badly enough, you need to be willing to put in whatever time and effort it takes to succeed. One of my mantras is “Be better than you were yesterday.” I feel like completing my Dental Hygiene program at Carrington, passing my national board exam, and getting a job as a registered dental hygienist has been a way to do that. Whatever struggle, hassle, and drama I’ve lived through were totally worth it. Now that I’m working full-time, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished.