Laura Vanderwerf, 2011 Coast Guard Spouse of the Year
Education Program: Dental Hygiene Program (A.A.S)
What, if any, challenges have you encountered in trying to attain your degree while being a military spouse?
I was fortunate to complete my AA with emphasis in Natural Science (and my pre-requisites) before transferring to the DC Area. My challenge was that I had to wait an entire year to apply to the dental hygiene program (that was a wasted year, a postponement in my plan and more time to find reasons not to continue). Applications for the program have to be submitted within a very small window. To apply, I would first need to give the college time to evaluate my transcripts (they ask for 8 weeks). By the time we had PCS orders, there was not enough time to get the evaluation done (showing that I had the required pre-requisites), complete the necessary paperwork and MAIL the application to the school (they require it to be mailed).
What motivated you to attend school?
Because I learned dental assisting on the job, when we PCS’ed the new state would not let me acquire the necessary registrations to continue. Even though I had passed my Dental Assisting National Boards, their requirements would mean I would have to start at an entry-level job (a job that doesn’t require much from the assistant). I would need to work through a process and attain the needed training they required for registration (even though I had been doing those things for years and was nationally certified), just so that I would be able to test for the job level I had been doing prior to the move. I decided if I was required to return to school, I was going to return for a job that would get me more money. Thus began my current educational pathway.
What advice would you give to other military spouses to get them to graduation day?
Unless grade point average matters for your program, do not stress over it! There is nothing wrong with having a passing grade. With my program you must maintain a grade of 75% to continue from one semester to the next (this is in every class, not overall). I remind my fellow classmates that after we graduate and are looking for employment, a dentist is not going to ask for our grades…they will want to know that we passed our National Exam and our Boards! So get rid of the stress we place upon ourselves to be at the top of the pyramid. It has been liberating to know that for me a “B” is good and I no longer need that “A” to prove anything. Besides, whom was I trying to impress? I will graduate just before my 50th birthday…that is impressive enough.
Take one day off a week, for me Friday evenings and most of Saturday are “NO SCHOOL” times. I try and make those fun days; I re-energize and decompress from the busy week. Get out and do something by yourself or with your family. Put school away, it will be there when you return and you will be refreshed and ready to start again on the studying and homework.
What 3 tips would you say helped you succeed in school?
1. Don’t try to have the top grade…passing is passing.
2. Get to know your classmates…if you are in a program, they are going through the same things you are (even if family situations are different), and they are another “family” you get to be a part of (like the military family). Depend on them and let them depend on you. The more you give, the more you get out of the experience.
3. Even though as a military spouse we don’t always have extended family nearby, I couldn’t succeed without my military family. The Fort Belvoir spouses have stepped up when I have asked for help (I have to find patients), these women that I had not met until they stepped forward to volunteer to be a patient (even when they fear dentists) have been a blessing.
4. (Yes, I’m giving you 4 instead of 3)…make sure your spouse and children are on board! Going back to school takes a lot of time, between studying, shadowing 2nd year students, attending required professional meetings and community service projects I find it often prevents me from being “present” with my family and their activities. Without my family picking up the slack at home, my house would be a disaster, I wouldn’t have any clean clothes, and we would never eat.