When Kayleigh Powell enrolled in the Dental Assistant program at Florida Career College in Jacksonville, she was prepared to start a new career that would allow her to spend more time with her family. What she did not anticipate was that during the course of the program, her family would grow by one new addition.
“I had worked a bunch of different jobs, but I missed a lot of my son’s life because I had to work a lot of weekends,” she said. “I missed basically all holidays his first two years. I thought, ‘I’m done with this.’ I wanted to work a job that was nine to five, Monday through Friday. I had a really hard time finding positions like that without any kind of college.”
After a quick online search, Kayleigh discovered the Dental Assistant program at Florida Career College. The short-term, hands-on program sounded like the perfect fit.
“Stepping on the campus the first time I felt really at home,” she said. “I had looked into doing college before but knew it would take two years of doing prerequisites before I could get my degree. I was so impressed that I was in college without the pressure of a big campus. It felt very homey.”
Kayleigh quickly fell in love with the position of a dental assistant. The work is quick and requires a lot of multi-tasking, but it’s also repetitive, which makes for organized chaos.
Then, just two weeks after starting classes, Kayleigh found out she was pregnant.
“I was really scared I wouldn’t be able to finish with extern and everything,” she said. “Everyone was so supportive and encouraging.”
Kayleigh went through intense morning sickness the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy but said her instructor and classmates were always willing to help.
“I don’t think I would have finished the program if I didn’t have the people in my class and the instructor and everyone around me who was so supportive,” she said. “There was a closeness. It wasn’t just a professor I saw once a week with 50 other kids. I was able to get one-on-one understanding and form bonds not only with my instructor, but with my career services specialist. Everyone was friends.”
Even through a difficult pregnancy, Kayleigh managed to keep up with her schoolwork. Her grades never fell below a B and she even started her externship hours before delivering her baby.
“She is very driven, determined,” said Angela Jerrell, Kayleigh’s Career Services Specialist. “She just does whatever is necessary to do. She was pregnant when I met with her, and we started working together to find her an externship site that would be a potential hiring opportunity. No matter what she was going through, she was very steadfast in everything she did. She is a very driven individual and a very intelligent woman.”
Just before leaving for her externship, Kayleigh’s classmates surprised her with a baby shower after class.
“It felt so empowering,” she said. “They constantly encouraged me and let me know how good I was doing. It was such an awesome experience. I don’t think I’ll ever get what I got from that group of girls ever again. I got life-long friends out of the program.”
Kayleigh completed her externship hours after giving birth and was able to find a position as a dental assistant after graduation. She plans to continue school to become a dental hygienist.
“I know now how capable I am of doing things and being a mom at the same time,” she said. “It made me so proud of myself that I can tell my son and my daughter that even though I had them, I pushed myself to do the work and go to lab and work part time, and still make ends meet so I could have a career. It makes me really proud of myself that I can tell them there are no excuses. This is what I did. You can do it too.”