Kiah Kindred became the first-ever graduate of Georgia State Online’s dental hygiene bachelor of science degree program in May 2023. Her journey to this achievement was anything but easy.
Before entering the dental hygiene field, Kindred was a nursing student at Georgia State. But after spending time in the hospital with her father, who was battling a terminal illness, she felt like the nursing profession was not a fit for her. She left her nursing program and took some time off from school to evaluate her next steps.
Kindred researched her career options and landed on dental hygiene, deciding to contact dental offices in her area with the hopes of getting some background in the field before applying to a dental hygiene program. She reached out to 197 dental offices seeking experience in dental assisting. Only one office contacted her back.
“I actually tailored a resume and a cover letter, detailing my interest in getting into dental hygiene school,” Kindred said. “I just went on Google and I typed in ‘dental office’ and sent that resume and cover letter to any dental office that I could find with an email address.”
Kindred first graduated from Georgia State University’s Perimeter College with her associate’s degree in dental hygiene, which prepared her to practice in the field. Though Kindred loved working in the oral health field, she desired the additional career opportunities that completing her bachelor’s degree would provide. Kindred entered the bachelor’s degree program immediately after finishing her associate’s degree.
To complete her bachelor’s degree as quickly as possible, Kindred chose to enroll as a full-time student, taking three or four courses each semester while still working full-time as a dental hygienist. While a part-time option is offered for the online dental hygiene program, Kindred wanted to finish her degree as quickly as possible. She managed to finish the program in just one year.
But balancing the demands of working full-time while completing the program as a full-time student wasn’t the only challenge that Kindred faced in finishing her bachelor’s degree. She is also a mother to a 3-year-old daughter.
While completing her online degree, Kindred would work as a dental hygienist from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., pick up her daughter from daycare and come home to make dinner and get her daughter ready for bed. She’d then spend the rest of her evening working on her online courses, sometimes staying up until midnight or 1 a.m. to study.
“The balance is possible, but it does take a very strict amount of organization and dedication to the program,” Kindred said. “The biggest advantage of this program was that it was online, so I was able to kind of work at it in my own time. With the online classes you usually have a weekly deadline instead of a specific daily deadline.”
Dental hygienists who hold a bachelor’s degree are qualified for careers outside of clinical practice in education, public health, sales and marketing. Kindred loved the work she was doing in a private dentistry practice, but she chose to pursue her bachelor’s degree to set herself up for more options in the future.
And Kindred’s hard work has already paid off – she began teaching in Perimeter College’s dental hygiene program this semester while continuing to work in clinical practice. She works in a dental practice Monday through Wednesday morning and teaches at Perimeter College on Wednesday afternoon and all day Thursday.
“The beauty of the struggle through hygiene school and then getting through the bachelor’s program is that I set my own schedule,” Kindred said. “I choose to be off on weekends and to have easy Fridays. But then I also have the option to make a little extra money by working on the weekends as well.”
Though Kindred faced adversity in her path to her current career, her tenacity helped her achieve her goals. She advises other dental hygienists interested in earning a bachelor’s degree to take on the challenge of completing the program after hygiene school to set themselves up for success down the road.
“It's best to just slide right into the program and get it done,” Kindred said. “That way you have those options on the table. I've still got many more years [of clinical hygiene] ahead of me, but having that bachelor’s degree gives me the option to do more. It’s a stepping stone.”