Ever since Aaliyahna McDonald began taking courses as part of the Dental Assistant Training Program at Florida Career College (FCC) back in April, she’s paid close attention to a bulletin board that hangs just outside her Pembroke Pines classroom.
On this board is where new scholarship opportunities are posted. So, as an 18-year-old who was largely paying out-of-pocket for her education, it made sense that Aaliyahna didn’t want to miss out on anything that could potentially help her financially.
It’s here that she first learned about the Dr. Carolyn Ghazal Dental Assistant Scholarship offered by the Pacific Dental Services® Foundation.
“The board showed previous winners from the school, and that got my attention,” she said. “So, I read about it and decided to give it a chance.”
Aaliyahna applied by submitting an essay about the importance of her family and how they motivate her to be her best. She then did a live interview with the Foundation scholarship committee, during which she discussed her passion for helping others, a desire to positively represent FCC, and how becoming a dental assistant is only a first step in what she hopes will be a long and rewarding career.
Impressed with her authenticity and passion for the profession, the scholarship committee ultimately awarded Aaliyahna with the Dr. Carolyn Ghazal Dental Assistant Scholarship, which will pay $5,000 toward her FCC tuition.
“I wanted to cry when I found out I was the winner,” Aaliyahna said. “They said I was hand-picked, so they saw something in me. I was so excited to make my mom proud, my school, and [FCC Pembroke Pines Executive Director] Mr. [Gregg] Falcon proud, too.”
“Aaliyahna McDonald has been a wonderful example of what the Pembroke Pines campus would expect from an aspiring Dental Assistant student,” Gregg said. “She carries a continuous smile on her face, is willing to assist her fellow classmates, and most importantly, she shows up for class every day.”
“Congratulations to Aaliyahna on being selected as a recipient of the Dr. Carolyn Ghazal Dental Assistant Scholarship. We aim to mold the next generation of servant-hearted dental assistant leaders and Aaliyahna’s passion for the profession and for serving others shined through during her interview,” said Kyle Guerin, Executive Director of the Pacific Dental Services Foundation.
Capping Off a Year of Changes
Recognizing the importance of dental assistants to the future of dentistry, the Pacific Dental Services Foundation created the Dr. Carolyn Ghazal Dental Assistant Scholarship to provide students will needs-based financial aid, mentorship, and on-the-job training.
Named after Dr. Carolyn Ghazal and her heart for service, the scholarship’s aim is to mold the next generation of passionate, service-hearted dental assistant leaders. Since 2016, the Pacific Dental Service Foundation has awarded over $845,000 in scholarships to more than 118 dental assistant students.
Now one of those students, Aaliyahna is eager to prove to the Pacific Dental Services Foundation they chose the right person. At 19, Aaliyahna is just over a year removed from graduating high school, and she’s thrilled to be on track toward having a career before she reaches her 20s.
“Aaliyahna had just graduated from high school and she knew exactly what she wanted to do,” said Lisa Clarke, Associate Director of Admissions at FCC in Pembroke Pines. “Although she is soft-spoken, Aaliyahna spoke up and told me that she had always wanted to have a career helping people to have great smiles. I’m so proud of her accomplishments so far!”
This is especially rewarding when she considers the journey she’s been on over the last year. It started when her family up and moved from Atlanta to Pembroke Pines to be closer to her grandmother.
“We lived there pretty much our whole lives, but we moved here for better living,” Aaliyahna said. “I was supposed to go to school back home, but since I was from out of state, I didn’t have the funds to go to a regular college here. I wanted to go for biology to be a pediatrician.”
But one day, she got a call from someone at FCC who encouraged her to not give up and to consider other career training options. Intrigued, both Aaliyahna and her mom scheduled a visit to the Pembroke Pines campus.
They both soon enrolled, Aaliyahna in the Dental Assistant program and her mom in Business Office Administration.
“I’m pretty happy she’s doing something new that’s benefitting herself,” Aaliyahna said of her mom. “I feel like it’s pretty good we’ll be graduating at the same time. I’ll be more excited for her, and I’m sure she’ll be more excited for me.”
Striving to be Great
Aaliyahna’s journey at FCC has so far been quite successful. Not only has she been an honor roll student who boasts perfect attendance, but she also has an on-campus work-study job where she does administrative work while also helping students in the library.
She’s eager to credit her instructors for much of this success. Jessica Palmisano and Samantha Baker, she said, have remained both motivating and supportive throughout her classes.
“They’ve been a good influence on my school life so far,” Aaliyahna said. “They’re really encouraging and bring lots of help. They care about every single one of us and see a lot of potential in all of us.”
“We are so proud of Aaliyahna,” Jessica said. “She comes to class every single day ready to diligently work, and she just has this sweet demeanor. She has a very bright future ahead of her, and we can’t wait to see her make her mark.”
Aaliyahna said she’s starting to see a light at the end of the educational tunnel when it comes to completing the program, and she’s eager (though admittedly nervous) to start her externship and eventually land that first dental assistant job.
In the long-term, however, she said she would like to go back to school to become a dental hygienist. Even if she takes time to earn some experience as a dental assistant first, she’s proud that it’s something she’ll be able to accomplish at a relatively young age.
“I was kind of scared at first about my age when I started, but I took this chance and I’ve made it so far,” Aaliyahna said. “So, I know I can most definitely go out in the field and be something and continue to do great. I put a lot of effort into coming here, being on time every day, managing good grades, so I know I can succeed in my career.”