Five years ago, Calhoun's dean of health science, Bret McGill, had an idea — expand the department by offering a dental hygiene program for students.
"It’s a process for us," McGill said. "We do community surveys, we went to Mississippi, we toured Wallace State. We looked at hygiene labs that were currently in place. All that took time."
The College was eventually ready for accreditation for the program, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic delayed the process, McGill said.
"We ended up being accredited this April," he said. "We had our site visit, they voted on us in June and then we could enroll students in August."
Now students are getting hands-on experience in a brand-new dental hygiene lab and preparing themselves for employment once they complete the program.
"It’ll make the dentists in our community want to hire the graduates, because they’ve got so much actual skill in their craft," said McGill.
According to one dental hygiene student, Zaria Rice, that skill is being taught by some of the best dentists North Alabama has to offer.
"We’re being taught by people who have been doing this for over a decade," said Rice. "Maybe I'm biased, but here at Calhoun, we have the most amazing dentists and the most amazing teachers that came out of North Alabama."
Rice, who previously worked in health care, said she couldn't wait to become a student in Calhoun's dental hygiene program.
"I knew I wanted to take the dental route," she said. "As soon as I heard about it, I refreshed the page over and over, 'cause I knew I wanted to be a Calhoun student and a dental hygienist student at Calhoun."
Now that Rice and her classmates are fully immersed in the program, there is a buzz in the air about practicing on real patients in January.
"I’m gonna be excited," Rice said. "I will have some nerves, but I will be excited."
The new dental hygiene lab at the Health Science building has the same state-of-the-art equipment one would find at modern dental offices. Rice said her and her classmates refer to their brand-new equipment as "the Cadillac of the dental industry" and that everyone loves working with the top-of-the-line tools.
The application process for the dental hygiene program at Calhoun's Decatur campus begins in the spring for fall admission. For more information, you can visit their website here.