Audrey Sly was determined to become a dental hygienist, no matter the setbacks she faced. The young mother of two applied for OTC’s dental hygiene school not once, but twice before landing a spot in the coveted program. She also overcame numerous obstacles to earn her degree, including a devastating house fire and a global pandemic.
In May, Audrey graduated from OTC’s dental hygiene program and secured a job at Quinn Dental in Springfield. And she’s not stopping there. The 30-year-old plans to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the field. In total, Audrey will have five degrees under her belt — a plan worth pursuing she says, with each degree opening up more opportunities in the field.
“Dental hygiene school was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Audrey said emphatically. “But it helped me realize that, if I could earn that degree, then can get my masters, my doctorate – whatever I want to do.”
Looking back on her educational journey, Audrey says it’s been anything but linear. She gave birth to her firstborn son right out of high school, and enrolled at OTC when he was four years old. Her second son was born the following year, but Audrey stayed in school part-time to continue working on her prerequisites. She said she became interested in the dental field after meeting with a few of the college’s hygiene students at an OTC picnic.
“I remember talking with them and thinking, ‘Wow, they look like they love what they’re doing,’” Audrey recalled. “So I looked into it more, and I realized it was a perfect fit for me. Plus, the pay and the hours were so much better than anything I could have imagined for myself.”
The following year, a house fire nearly derailed Audrey’s plans. She, her husband and their two sons lost everything they owned.
“I remember crying that first night, because I didn’t have a toothbrush, soap or deodorant. It was probably the most humbling, most vulnerable moment of my life,” she explained. “But my friends, family, coworkers – and even people that we didn’t know – jumped at the chance to help us get back on our feet. It was seriously amazing.”
The fire wasn’t the only crisis to disrupt Audrey’s dream of becoming a dental hygienist. In the spring of 2020, her dental hygiene cohort was forced to pivot online in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Audrey was just 6 weeks away from completing her degree.
“We spent about a month in limbo, wondering how the Missouri Dental Board would respond to the pandemic,” Audrey recalled. “I remember the feeling of relief when we finally learned they would waive the clinical portion of our boards.”
Despite the abrupt shift to online learning in the wake of COVID-19, Audrey completed her dental hygiene degree and passed her boards as planned. Now, a few weeks into her new job at Quinn Dental, she’s most proud of the impact her new degree will have on her family.
“Yes, I had kids at a young age, and yes, it’s been hard. But there’s also beauty in the fact that my kids got to watch me work so hard to get where I want to be,” she said, her eyes brimming with tears. “Now they know, if you put in the hard work, you’ll succeed in the end.”