NOVA Named a 2023 Leader College

August 18, 2023

A co-worker once told Daniel Harwood that he was too smart to waste his time working at a restaurant. Already knowing that was not his calling, Daniel decided it was time to switch careers and went to work at a bank. After working at the bank for a considerable time, Daniel felt unfulfilled in his career. He needed a profession where he could help people and make a positive impact on their lives. But he had absolutely no idea what profession or position that would be. 


When working at the bank, Daniel noticed he had a number of customers who worked at dental offices in various positions, and they all seemed really happy. So, when he began looking to switch careers again, he started looking at dentistry. 

Currently, Daniel is working at the front desk of a dental office. He has been there for a few years now, and it has been a great learning experience. It has given him an overview of all that goes on in the field. When he started the job, he could imagine becoming the office manager and providing office support for the medical staff. But soon, Daniel will transition into a medical role himself. 

He is only a few semesters away from beginning a new career as a dental hygienist. He has already had the opportunity to help others and said, “It feels amazing.” Daniel is passionate about his new profession and is excited to get underway. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background: 
I didn’t originally go to college right after high school. I just started working. I worked in restaurants for a while. Restaurants are fun, but it’s tough to make a full-time, stable career out of them, and that wasn’t really for me. 

I worked at a bank for quite a while, but I wasn’t personally satisfied there anymore, and I wanted to do something where I was helping people a whole lot more. Then I started working at the front desk of a dental office because I saw a lot of crossovers and similarities with my job at the bank. I still use my numbers and finance skills and provide excellent customer service to patients. 

It was about a year and a half into working at the dental office that I learned more about the dental field, and I decided to become a dental hygienist. At NOVA, I started taking the prerequisites and it took me about a year to do those. It was all online because of COVID. Then I applied, and I was fortunate to get into the dental hygiene program. So now I’m here, and I’m super happy about it! 

Fall of 2022 was my first semester in the program. Then I did the spring and summer 2023. Next spring is my last semester. 

What brought you to NOVA? 
I heard that NOVA had a really good program. I know it’s a little intense. We might actually even go a little faster than other dental hygiene programs. Toward the beginning of the program, a classmate knew people that had gotten into other programs, and we knew we were decently ahead of them in terms of the pace we were at. So, I think it’s a little bit quicker of a program. I’m a somewhat older student, so the idea of a more accelerated program is good for me. 

Having spent my entire life in Northern Virginia, the dental hygiene program offered by NOVA seemed like the most logical choice for me. Not only is it the best program in the area, but it is also closest to my home in Arlington, so I’m really happy I got into NOVA! 

What are you studying at NOVA? 
I worked full time at the dental office while taking the prerequisites, but since I’ve been in the program, I’ve only been working part time. The first two semesters are challenging; it’s academically front-loaded because we need to prepare to start seeing patients. We started seeing patients about halfway through the second semester. It’s fast-paced and intense, and we spend much of our time here in the clinic. It’s really great and I’m really happy I’m doing it. It’s really fulfilling! 

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA, i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met. 
A lot of the instructors in the dental hygienist program here at MEC are awesome, like Elizabeth Disilvio who is the program director, Griselda Lopez is the first-year coordinator, Myrtle Raynor-Dudley is the second-year coordinator and Raya Mukhtar is an instructor. They all teach and work in the clinic and there are many other great people that work there. 

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA? 
I think most of the courses here can get a little intense. It can feel a little overwhelming. You’ve just got to throw yourself into it. Listen to your instructors. Just be a sponge and take feedback. Just keep trying. Keep knocking down the next task and you’ll be fine. 

I have to say that although I am not really a proud person, I’m very proud of everything I’ve done here at NOVA, and I am still learning! 

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring? 
I’m going to get my state license and start working. I am planning on continuing my education on the side. I’ll probably take classes. I’m going to get a bachelor’s degree, at least, since I will have an associate degree. 

I am still deciding what my bachelor’s will be in. Maybe pre-dentistry. I’m not planning on going to school for dentistry; it’s just that it’ll be in the same field, and it’ll overlap. 

If I have a bachelor’s degree, it will give me more options down the line. Being a dental hygienist could be a fairly physically demanding job, and you never know what the future will hold for you. If, for some reason, I physically can’t keep doing it, then I want to have another option. 

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