When Melissa graduated high school in 1999 from Luther North College Prep, she wasn’t sure about her next step. She took a few classes at Wright College, which was close to home, but then started working as a dental assistant at an orthodontist office.

It was thanks to that work experience that Melissa knew she wanted to study dental hygiene. She moved and changed jobs, but over the next several years, Melissa kept taking classes to earn general education credits. When she was ready to go back to school in 2012, she headed straight to CCC’s Dental Hygiene program, then housed at Kennedy-King College.

Melissa went to school full-time at the age of 32, learning both in the classroom and getting hands-on experience working with patients through Community Health, a free, volunteer-based health clinic for low-income, uninsured adults.

“While I was always drawn to public health, doing community rotations while in school solidified my commitment to working with the under-served community,” Melissa says.

As if it were meant to be, once Melissa graduated in 2014 with her AAS in Dental Hygiene, a job opened up at Community Health and she’s been working there ever since.

Now, in her role as Oral Health Manager, Melissa gets to work with CCC’s dental hygiene students, who are now based out of Malcolm X College. She says, “My time as a student in the hygiene program was great. All the instructors were fantastic and supportive – they helped me so much throughout the entire two years. Being able to be in a similar role now is really rewarding.”

Melissa also stressed the importance of students being exposed to real patients, which she believes helps highlight the importance of everyone having access to good oral health care. But it’s not only the students who benefit. “Partnerships such as the one we have with the CCC hygiene program are very important for us to be able to provide care to our patients as well as highlight the needs of the population to future healthcare providers.”

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