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By Mira Radovich, Senior Contributing Writer
In a career rut? Community college can be the gateway to a new job and a better future. Just ask Emily Lehr. The Rio Salado student returned to the college when her professional pursuits as an advertising sales executive were at a crossroads.
“Although I ranked among the highest of my peers in sales, I just didn’t feel like I was feeding my need to help others,” Lehr said. “I am a person that needs a ‘why’ bigger than me to drive my interest.”
Initially, Lehr chose Rio Salado College for the flexibility of online classes.
“I needed to take a few classes to meet some pre-reqs,” Lehr said. “Rio’s online classes allowed me to work full time and take classes at night. Eventually, Rio Salado chose me.”
When Lehr began investigating dental hygiene programs in the Valley she discovered that Rio Salado’s was the shortest.
“I was a non-traditional student re-careering,” Lehr said. “Rio offered an 18-month dental hygiene program, and the job offered earnings that were worth the return on time and school costs.”
Lehr, a native of Indiana, earned her associate degree in dental hygiene from Rio Salado College in 2010. While some of the classes were online, the nature of the program requires in-person training, which she enjoyed.
“My favorite class was the clinic,” Lehr said. “I had patients from my clinical classes that drive me, to this day, to do what I do. Every day I think about the poor access to dental care we have in the U.S. and all the barriers that patients have to healthcare. This is why I do what I do.”
After graduating, Lehr worked as a hygienist for five years before transitioning into dental sales, and then as a coach and clinical instructor.
Today, Lehr works for Aspen Dental as an academic and industry relations manager.
“This means I get to share my passion for dental hygiene at Aspen Dental with students and peers,” Lehr said. “Aspen has a business model that truly opens up access to dental care nationwide, focusing on the patients that need us most.”
The career field seemed tailor-made for Lehr.
“I’ve always felt at home in the dental office,” Lehr said. “I didn’t know it when I started, but it’s a career that’s really allowed me to travel the United States, speak, expand my public health knowledge, and meet great people along the way.”
As for future career aspirations, Lehr says she will keep an open mind.
“I’m open to anything where I can use my strengths of change, influence, communication and networking to get positive outcomes that help people,” Lehr said. “I’m always interested in learning more and making a difference.”
Her words of wisdom to future dental hygiene students?
“I would say Rio has a history of positive outcomes, meaning you will license as a hygienist after graduating,” Lehr said. “After that, I would say to stay open to opportunity. You just never know when it’s going to knock.”