Dr. Alwyn Leiba, current Chair of Miami Dade College’s School of Health Sciences, was a dental hygienist working full time in his field, but he knew he wanted to branch out in his career.
“My ultimate goal was either education or consulting, and the stepping stone to both of those careers was a bachelor’s degree,” he said.
“Choosing SPC for the dental hygiene BAS was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Leiba said. “SPC was the first and only college in Florida that offers the bachelor’s degree 100 percent online, which allowed me to work 40 hours a week and still complete my studies. And the faculty at SPC were amazing – they really sparked my interest and moved me forward to completion.”
After graduating in 2009, Leiba went on to earn an MBA and PhD in Higher Education Leadership. He was recently elected president of the Florida Dental Hygiene Association, the first African-American (Jamaican) male dental hygienist in the 92-year history of the FDHA to be elected.
Though SPC has been training dental hygienists for their associate degrees since 1963, 2019 marks the 15th year of St. Petersburg College’s Bachelor of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene (BASDH) program.
Why a bachelor’s degree?
2016 graduate and current SPC Dental Hygiene Advisory committee member Jessica Raymond-Albritten said in a recent article she published in RDH magazine that she chose to pursue her bachelor’s degree after finding that she wanted more out of her dental hygiene career.
“My reason was personal growth and the hopes that I may one day transcend clinical dental hygiene,” she wrote. “Pursuing an advanced degree is a significant investment in both your finances and your time. It’s important to be emotionally committed, identify your personal goals and choose the right program.”
Dental Hygiene Program Director Joan Tonner said the bachelor’s degree offers a lot more flexibility in career choices for dental hygienists, outside of the usual clinical offices.
“We try to expose our students to many career options, and when you have a bachelor’s degree, there is a different set of job opportunities you can go into, like management or teaching,” Tonner said.
In addition to publishing journal articles, SPC BASDH graduates have found other honors, like 2017 graduate Sandra Arill, who claimed the Fall 2018 Florida Dental Hygiene Association’s Swann D. Knowles Achievement Award, which recognizes organization members who contributed to the profession through service and dedication. Arill said she sought a bachelor’s because she wanted to prepare for a second career after retirement from clinical practice.
“I had always thought about working in public health, and knew I needed a bachelor’s degree. I also wanted to advance my education and get more involved in my professional association,” Arill said.
Arill found as she started looking around for a program that many of her colleagues had graduated from SPC, and they highly recommended it. She was also attracted to the fact that she could do the program fully online from her home in Miami. In addition to the credentials she earned with her 2017 graduation, Arill said she had a professional awakening.
“My SPC experience strengthened the skills I needed to become more involved in my community,” she said. Dental public health is my passion, and so for my Capstone project I developed Project Rainbow Smiles, an oral health program for preschoolers. I’ve been able to enact and grow the program, and it’s still growing.”
For 15 years, SPC’s Dental Hygiene bachelor’s program has evolved and grown, and will continue to do so, considering that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth for dental hygienists is expected to rise by 20 percent. Amy Krueger, chair of SPC’s Dental Hygiene associate degree program, said that eventually, the field may require a higher degree.
“The swing now is that all hygienists have a bachelor’s,” Krueger said. “If one person has a BA over and AS, they will definitely have an advantage for being hired.”