USC News

Menu Search

Pilot dental assistant program has student all smiles

Innovative, free USC program trains high school students to become dental assistants, an in-demand job some will do later while attending college.

Portrait of Tatiana Beamon
Tatiana Beamon plans to work as a dental assistant while going to college. (Photo/Donaven Russell)

Tatiana Beamon wasn’t sure what to think when her USC Upward Bound adviser asked her if she’d like to take a 180-hour USC class that allows high school students to earn a dental assistant certificate.

“I’ve never been the kid that liked the body parts, saliva and blood,” admitted Beamon, a senior at Crenshaw High School. “I was really put off by medical stuff, period.”

But the highly motivated, college-bound student enjoys challenges so she enrolled in the pilot program, administered by USC Civic Engagement, and fell in love with many aspects of the dental field.

“It’s so interesting and you can really make an impact on people’s lives,” she said.

She successfully completed the program in December and has already applied for three dental assistant jobs. She plans to attend community college, then transfer into a four-year university — and, in the meantime, work as a dental assistant while eventually becoming an attorney.

Beyond the minimum wage

High school students are looking for ways to make a decent salary that goes beyond the minimum wage.

One of the motivating forces for these high school students is to receive training and go to work in a field that they can be a proud member of the workforce while attending college.

Thomas Sayles

“One of the motivating forces for these high school students is to receive training and go to work in a field that they can be a proud member of the workforce while attending college,” said Thomas Sayles, USC senior vice president for university relations.

That is where the USC Concurrent Enrollment Dental Assistant Certificate program comes in. It is designed to strengthen college and career-readiness by expanding the high school experience to include allied health relevant workforce job-ready skills, said Theda Douglas, USC associate vice president of government partnerships and programs.

The program is specifically geared toward low-income and first-generation students, especially those coming from USC’s feeder schools, the TRiO programs that includes Upward Bound and Educational Talent Search programs, and the university’s family of schools.

The average unemployment rate for high school students in 2012 was 23 percent, Douglas said. The rate increases to 33 percent for Latino students and 39 percent for African-American students.

The first cohort of dental certificate students completed classes in December and were offered paid internships with alumni from the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC and other Los Angeles-area dentists.

About three-quarters of the 33 students are expected to continue with training and, if they successfully complete the additional classes, will be eligible to sit for the state exam in the fall. Students who receive the 180 hours of training can take dental x-rays, do infection control work and assist with insurance-related tasks, Douglas said.

Growing interest

The next cohort of students began in February, and enrollment more than doubled.

Douglas said she chose to implement this program based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the state Employment Development Department. Her staff researched 10-year statistics to find the fastest-moving and highest-paying jobs; dentistry and health jobs were at the top of the list. The dental assistant program is an attractive option to incoming workforce since the job market for dental assistants is expected to grow by 15.5 percent over the next 10 years.

USC’s first workforce program began three years ago for students interested in becoming Certified Nursing Assistants. The next pilot program will recruit students interested in pursuing a career in pharmaceutical careers, Douglas said.

The dental assistant program, a partnership between USC Civic Engagement and West Los Angeles College, is funded by the university’s Good Neighbors program, through which USC faculty and staff make donations to serve the communities that surround the school’s campuses, and is free to students. About $1,000 covers books, materials, uniforms, transportation, health fees and certification test fees. For an extra $500, a student can be sponsored through the entire nine-month dental assistant licensing program.

“It’s a strong commitment,” Douglas said.

Beamon — whose first patient was her grandmother — agreed and is grateful that her adviser looked out for her and saw her potential.

As she moves forward, though, Beamon said she has one regret: She’ll miss wearing her snazzy cardinal-colored scrubs with the USC logo.

More stories about: ,

Pilot dental assistant program has student all smiles

Top stories on USC News