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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Dental Hygiene Student Heads to Graduate School in Quest to Teach

By Irv Harrell

Sometimes a smile can say a lot and go a long way. Just ask dental hygiene senior Adaira Howell, one of the exemplary 2018 graduates in the College of Health Sciences. The 21-year-old from Norfolk beams when she talks about her goal in life: "I love smiles. It's the first thing I notice. Why not help others have the smiles they've always wanted."

Dental hygiene wasn't always Howell's passion, she says. For a while she found an interest in psychology. Her family left Norfolk after middle school for Crane, a small town in rural Indiana, where the Army had re-stationed her stepfather. It was there that her plans for the future would change.

"My dentist at the time told me that I could come shadow him in his office," she said. "In Crane, a lot of people had not gone to the dentist before and that kind of peaked my interest as well. So I did some research into the dental hygiene field."

Upon graduating high school, Howell planned to return to Virginia and found she had two state dental hygiene programs to choose from: Old Dominion University and Virginia Commonwealth University.

"I also knew I wanted to be in Norfolk to be with my grandfather, so ODU was the best option for me," she says.

Howell's mother spent more than 10 years as a third-grade teacher and her stepfather retired from the Army after more than 30 years of service. Her only sibling, her younger sister Qira, is finishing up high school and incidentally has been one of her patients during clinicals.

Ask her about her experiences at ODU, and the smiles continue. "It's been wonderful. Great professors. I'm very lucky," she says. She lists Associate Professor Tara Newcomb as her most inspirational faculty member.

"I loved her personality, her teaching style," she says. "You can tell that she really cares about her students. She took the time to really work with each one of us to teach us how to be great dental hygienists."

It was Newcomb that motivated Howell to pursue her master's in dental hygiene at ODU. Having someone to trust and confide in has been key as Howell pursued her education. Newcomb has been that mentor, she says.

"Sometimes other people see your potential before you do," Howell says. "That's what you need to help push you forward."

As she continues her education at ODU, Howell says her ultimate goal is to be a university professor and teach dental hygiene. During her bachelors, she has volunteered at an ambulatory care clinic as an oral health educator, which has stoked her ambitions. Through her volunteerism she has had the opportunity to talk to people from underserved areas and help them understand why preventive care is so important when it comes to dental hygiene.

"Sometimes people simply don't know what they need to know," she says. "We don't just clean teeth. We educate the public, that a big part of what we do. That's why I want to teach."

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