WSU Dental Hygiene Program Changes Life for Non-Traditional Student
OGDEN, Utah – Donna Dinette fell in love with dentistry at 13 when she got a set of braces. Now at age 51, she will graduate in spring 2022 from Weber State University with a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene.
Before Dinette enrolled at Weber State, she had a career consulting and assisting in the dental industry, but she always dreamed of going to dental hygiene school and pursuing higher education. As a young mother, it was challenging to attend college consistently. For 20 years, she took courses at various institutions, but then her credits would expire, and she would have to start from the beginning.
In 2014, after 17 years working as a dental assistant and dental office manager in North Carolina, Dinette decided to make a life change and move to California. Two weeks after her move, she met her future husband at a holiday party. When the two married, Dinette moved to Reno to be with him and her step son.
After moving to Nevada, Dinette decided to enroll at Weber State, taking classes online with the intention of earning a degree in health administration.
“I had always wanted to go to school and study dental hygiene, but I thought I'm just too old.” she said. “I signed up for classes at Weber State because it was so affordable and doing online school matched my work life.”
After her first semester, Dinette connected with Brittney Maynard, a recruiter for the Dumke College of Health Professions, who encouraged her to make the switch and follow her passion to dental hygiene.
Weber State offers the longest running dental hygiene program in the state and was recently ranked #13 on Best Accredited Colleges list of Best Dental Hygienist Associate Programs. Every year the dental hygiene program reviews more than 100 applications for its 30 open seats.
On March 4, 2020, Dinette learned she had been accepted into the dental hygiene program. Just 10 days later, Weber State closed all of its campuses in response to the pandemic.
“I was so worried,” Dinette said. “I didn’t want to wait another year to go to school, but my husband looked at me and said ‘Weber State will not let you down.’ So we rented an apartment, and I made the jump to Ogden, and my husband and step son stayed in Reno.”
During the pandemic, dental hygiene classes were held primarily over Zoom. Twice a week, students would meet face-to-face at the clinic and work with typodonts, a plastic model of the mouth and teeth, which allows students to practice dental procedures before working on patients.
“Our professors are so amazing,” Dinette said. “It was a new situation for everybody, but our professors tried to keep everything as normal as possible.”
The remote nature of her classes meant Dinette wasn’t able to work on patients until her second semester. That’s when she started at the Weber State Dental Hygiene Clinic, which offers high-quality oral healthcare at low cost to students and community members. Professionally trained students provide all clinic services under the supervision of experienced and licensed dental hygiene faculty.
Once Dinette started at the clinic, it quickly became her favorite part of school. She found it rewarding to make connections and to provide services for the Ogden community she has grown to love.
“Donna has been a great resource and leader for her peers as they navigate the dental hygiene program together,” said Amanda Musselman Gonzalez, clinic manager. “Donna brings so much knowledge from her previous dental experience, and she is always willing to mentor students and share her experiences.”
What surprised Dinette most about Weber State was the inclusion she felt from the students around her.
“My classmates are the greatest group of people,” she said. “I have felt so much a part of this program, and I never expected that. I was extremely humbled that my classmates voted for me to serve as vice president and then president of the Weber State Chapter of the Student American Dental Hygiene Association for the last two years.”
As president, Dinette worked with her classmates to find activities and community outreach throughout the pandemic. To begin the fall 2021 semester, Dinette and her classmates teamed up with local organizations and gathered donations for oral-health kits and winter apparel, which helped nearly 100 members of the Ogden community.
Dinette’s time serving as president made her passionate about staying current with the ever-changing dental industry and taking advantage of networking opportunities.
“Donna is very motivated and knows what she wants and will do whatever is needed to be successful,” said Kimberlee Caldwell, dental hygiene assistant professor. “I know Donna will continue to do great things in the dental community after she graduates from Weber State.”
Dinette says her husband’s constant support and the encouragement she received from her father before he passed away are what has kept her going throughout her schooling.
“I wish I could have gotten my degree before my father passed away,” Dinette said. “My dad was so big on education because nobody can ever take that away from you, and I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without support from my husband. He is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.”
When Dinette graduates, she is considering opening a dental practice in the Ogden area to work as the hygienist and own the business. She's also contemplating a master’s degree in dental hygiene in hopes of teaching.
“If you want something bad enough, no matter your age or circumstance, there is a way to accomplish it at Weber State,” Dinette said. “It really is the place where you can make your dreams happen.”
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