Jonathan Monterroso was holding up a small X-ray to the bright, fluorescent light.
“Did your four bite-wings come out?” asked Liz Hermosillo, a dental instructor at West Los Angeles Community College.
“Yes, they’re beautiful,” said Monterroso, with a touch of pride.
The topic of their conversation was a particular kind of X-ray showing the upper and lower back teeth and used to check for decay between the teeth.
Monterroso, a recent graduate from West Adams Preparatory High School, is one of 28 students who will graduate on June 25 from the second cohort of the USC Concurrent Enrollment Dental Assistant Certificate program.
The free program, a partnership between USC Civic Engagement and West Los Angeles Community College, is funded by the Good Neighbors Campaign. That’s the university’s annual program through which faculty and staff make donations to benefit the communities surrounding the school’s campuses.
This year, 42 university-community partnerships were announced that span health, safety, education and the arts.
“It’s really meaningful to have these partnerships completely funded by USC employees,” said Carolina Castillo, executive director of GNC, now in its 22nd year after raising $18 million. To date, nearly 700 programs have been funded.
Because the university absorbs all administrative costs, the funds go entirely toward the partnerships that surround the University Park and Health Sciences campuses.
“It reflects our Trojan values of building community and providing opportunities,” Castillo said.
The first cohort of dental certificate students, which completed classes in December, was offered paid internships with the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC and other Los Angeles-area dentists.
Marsha Center, a registered dental hygienist who teaches at West L.A. College, is one of two instructors who takes part in the USC dental program on Saturdays. (Hermosillo is the other.) She describes the program as “profound.”
“It’s an opportunity for young students to learn a skill that can help support them in college,” Center said. “These are high-achieving students, obviously, and it gives them a step up.”
After just a few classes, Monterroso said he was sold on dentistry as a career choice.
“I fell in love with the topic,” he said. “What is so interesting about it is the new knowledge. I like the hands-on. When I used to go to the dentist, I didn’t know what anything was.”
Monterroso also appreciates the pride taken in him by his mother, an immigrant from Nicaragua. He intends to attend community college for two years and then transfer into a four-year university. If all goes as planned, he will be the first in his family to graduate from college.
Hermosillo said Monterroso was one of her top students.
“He’s very confident in his skills,” she said. “He’s a very professional young man. Most of the kids in our class were very high-achieving kids. They all applied to a university, and most of them had higher education goals. They were very goal-oriented.”