Chelsea Murray’s determination and grit have earned her one of the nation’s most prestigious awards for community college students in STEM fields. Earlier this month, the second-year OTC dental hygiene student was named a Siemens Technical Scholar by the Aspen Institute and Siemens Foundation.
Chelsea and four other OTC dental hygiene students were among 44 individuals across the country to receive the honor. As part of the award, Chelsea accepted a $5,000 scholarship to support her educational goals at OTC.
Humbled by the recognition, Chelsea said the award helped validate one of the most difficult decisions she ever had to make. Just two weeks into her first semester of dental hygiene school, Chelsea gave birth to her son, Colton. And despite the fact that she was encouraged to take as much time as she needed to recover from childbirth, Chelsea returned to classes two days later.
“I had to do it,” she explained. “I knew if I stayed home any longer I wouldn’t be able to talk myself into going back.”
Chelsea discovered she was pregnant nearly two years ago while making plans to apply to OTC’s dental hygiene school. But rather than let that stop her, she told herself the program would only help her provide a better future for her son.
“Colton means everything to me,” she said, her voice wrought with emotion. “And once I earn this degree, I will be able to give him all that he needs and more.”
Prior to her acceptance into OTC’s dental hygiene school, Chelsea worked as a dental assistant for the Tooth Truck – a Ronald McDonald House project that provides free dental care to children from low-income households. Chelsea said her work there helped fuel her desire to return to school.
“A lot of the kids I interacted with had never owned a toothbrush – some didn’t know what floss was,” she said. “I realized that, as a dental hygienist, I could do so much more to help educate these children and give them the gift of a healthy smile.”
According to Chelsea, a lack of access to dental care can negatively affect a child’s health, speech, self-confidence and more.
“People often don’t realize their oral health can affect the rest of their body, so providing this type of education to individuals – especially children – is critical,” she said. “That’s why I’m proud to be part of a field that makes such a positive impact in the lives of others.”
Chelsea will graduate from OTC’s dental hygiene program in May 2019. After that, she plans to find a job in a clinic or practice that encompasses a mission similar to that of the Tooth Truck. Through her work, she hopes to set a positive example for her son.
“I want him to know there’s never really a ‘perfect’ time to follow his dreams,” she said. “But with the right mindset, he can accomplish anything.”
About the Siemens Technical Scholars
The Siemens Technical Scholars awards recognize an exceptional group of diverse students from across the country who demonstrate the rewarding careers and opportunities that result from completing excellent STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.
The Siemens Technical Scholars are chosen by Aspen in partnership with the community colleges that win the Siemens-Aspen Community College STEM Award. The 43 programs honored since the awards launched in 2015 do an exceptional job launching students directly into technical careers with wages that enable them to support a family. These colleges partner with employers to offer students in-demand credentials and teach the necessary skills with rigor.
About the Aspen Institute
The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, D.C.; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit aspeninstitute.org.