The question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” can be one that remains unanswered for a lifetime. Yet, for a select few, it could be a career that becomes a lifelong calling. TMCC Dental Hygiene student Desiree Ellingson knew from eighth grade what she wanted to do with the rest of her life: “In middle school, we were doing an activity in which we had to choose our careers after high school. I know it’s sort of early to start thinking about it, but I’ve always loved going to the dentist and I feel like I have a servant’s heart, I really wanted to be in a health care profession,” she said.
A native of South Dakota, Ellingson would begin her journey to commencement in 2012 by taking online classes. She would then follow her older sister to Reno where she was a student at both TMCC and UNR. “I’ve literally spent half of my life working toward this goal of becoming a dental professional,” Ellingson remarked, looking back on her journey that included the complicated balancing act of working, attending classes and attending to her personal life.
“I started off by taking some prerequisite classes, and that’s when I found out about dental assisting,” she said. “I graduated from that program in 2015, which allowed me to obtain a full-time job, so I was able to keep working while taking classes for the Dental Hygiene Program.”
Finding the Balance and Overcoming Test Anxiety
As many TMCC students know, the work-life-education balance is difficult in and of itself. Yet, Ellingson faced considerable challenges: she worked two jobs while attending TMCC and she struggled through her early years in college with test anxiety.
“Throughout my whole college education, testing has been difficult,” she said. “I’ve worked with the Disability Resource Center [DRC], and I’ve received accommodations for it in my first year in the Dental Hygiene Program. That was the moment when I realized that it was going to make or break my ability to succeed. The midterms were tough, and it was an eye-opener. If I didn’t do well on the finals, I knew wasn’t going to make it through the program.”
Through her prerequisite courses, Ellingson sought out support from the Tutoring and Learning Center. She also worked on approaching tests with a positive mindset. “I told myself to slow down and really read the test questions,” she said. What became a game-changer, though, was a service offered by the DRC called Gold Read and Write.
“The DRC showed me how to use this program to scan my textbooks and how I could create my study notes, play it and listen to it and read it,” she said. “The DRC let me know you don’t have to be registered to use that kind of technology. You can just stop by and someone in the office can help you with those programs.”
This switch in Ellingson’s mentality and this additional resource would lead her to her biggest win on the way to commencement. “It brings me to tears,” she said. “When I found out I passed my National Board Dental Hygiene Exam. This program has really helped me to overcome fear and doubt because testing has always been a drawback for me—this exam was my biggest accomplishment because I didn’t think I could do that, but I did.”
Building A Career to Give Back
The Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene will not be Ellingson’s first college degree. While en route to reaching this lifelong goal, she also earned certificates in dental assisting, as well as an associate of applied science in dental assisting and an associate of science degree. “The classes started to add up,” she said with a shrug.
Beyond attending this year’s commencement ceremony with her family and friends, Ellingson is looking forward to beginning her career as a dental hygienist in a local private practice. And yet, it’s not just the full-time career that is a culmination of her childhood dreams that Ellingson is looking forward to: for her, being a dental hygienist offers a unique opportunity to give back to the world.
“I want to give back to our community,” she said. “The TMCC Dental Hygiene Program prepares us for that, and it increases our passion for this kind of work.”
Staying the Course
For Ellingson, there could be only one word to describe her journey: perseverance. “Thinking about that journey, that was really the first word that came to my mind,” she said. “I’ve had to persevere as different challenges in my life have come up that could have set me back. But instead, I always figured out how to continue and to follow my dreams.”
Despite having to work multiple jobs, she continued to keep her eye on the degree she wanted: 2022 marks the end of a ten-year journey in which Ellingson has earned every step toward the finish line.
To other students who are just beginning their academic and professional journeys, Ellingson said it’s important to remember your passion and that it will be worth it in the end. “Never give up. Do what you can to make it happen. Remember that there is no right or wrong timeline for completing your degree; just do what you can to make it suitable for your life… and always choose to persevere,” she said.
Celebrating the Class of 2022: My Grad Story
Every year, the TMCC celebrates our graduates through a multi-platform campaign that tells the stories of our students’ journeys to the commencement stage. However, members of the class of 2022 will have a unique experience of having their academic and personal lives altered due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Our graduates embody diversity in every imaginable way, and in this series of stories, we will celebrate their journey to the commencement stage and beyond. This is one part of a multi-story series we will continue to run through May.