Air Force Veteran Chelsea Pires overcame barriers to earn her degree in dental hygiene

When Chelsea Pires returned to Amherst after serving in the U.S. Air Force, she knew what she wanted to do and where she needed to go. Pires had spent six years stationed in Italy as a military dental assistant and wanted to stay in the dental field, but with a different job title.

“I didn’t want to just assist,” says Pires. “I knew becoming a registered dental hygienist would be a better fit to provide for my children.”

Lorain County Community College was an easy choice for the single mother, who wanted an affordable dental hygiene education close to home. And because of the college’s Veterans Services Center and her advisors, Pires’ transition to student life was easier than she expected.

“From the first day I walked into Espy Correa’s office, lost without a clue where to begin with this civilian life, she had all the answers or led me to someone who did,” Pire says.

But the stumbling blocks Correa guided Pires through were nothing compared to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. When Pires’ classes moved online in March 2020, so did her children’s. And their daycare closed.

“It wasn’t easy taking my online classes with the kids home all of the time,” she says. “I am not a teacher; it was a challenge to say the least.”

Pires says there wouldn’t have been enough time in the day for her to do everything, if it wasn’t for parents.

“I owe all of my success and achievements to my amazing parents who have supported me in ways I cannot even describe,” she says.

When Pires’ children went back to their school and daycare in fall of 2020, her schedule became more structured, but the struggle lingered. “It’s hard as a mother trying to give your best in all aspects of life,” Pires says.

But the root of that struggle gave Pires the extra push she needed. She wanted to make her children proud.

Air Force Veteran Chelsea Pires with her children who inspired her educational journey dental hygiene
“I knew becoming a registered dental hygienist would be a better fit to provide for my children.”
Chelsea Pires

Pires crammed two semesters of time in the LCCC Dental Hygiene Clinic, which COVID-19 had halted, into her last year of school. And she says her instructors seemed to go out of their way to make it work.

“They went above and beyond to enable us to graduate on time despite all the set-backs from the pandemic,” Pires says.

After her May 2021 graduation, and passing the state and national clinical and written boards, Pires began working at a dental practice in Sheffield.

“I am really enjoying it,” Pires says. “It’s a very patient oriented practice and I love the people I work with.”

Despite the trials she faced – or perhaps because of them – Pires has great admiration for her time in the dental hygienist program. And she learned something about herself too.

“I can push through the stress, the tears, the unknown, and come out successful.”