Penn College dental hygiene hails largest group of male grads

Published 05.10.2024

School of Nursing & Health Sciences News
Dental Hygiene

Pennsylvania College of Technology’s dental hygiene Class of 2024 represents the most men the program has ever enrolled.

Forty students are accepted into the program each year. Five men are part of the cohort set to graduate May 10.

Pennsylvania College of Technology students Orlando D. Bellaman, of Annville; Ty D. Turba, of Houtzdale; Mikey E. Strohm III, of Thompsontown; Joshua Quigley, of Williamsport; and Wangden T. Nangpa, of Medford, Massachusetts, who are set to receive their degrees on May 10, represent the largest group of men to graduate from the college’s dental hygiene program.

Men have been allowed to work in the dental hygiene profession – originally conceived as an ideal career pursuit for women – since 1965, but they remain a minority in the field. While the prevalence of men in nursing has grown, the same has not been true in dental hygiene, with women representing about 94% of registered dental hygienists.

“I do have concerns about people’s perspective about men in dental hygiene,” said student Ty D. Turba, of Houtzdale. “I have already experienced situations where I am asked why I am the one cleaning their teeth and not ‘the girls.’”

Still, Turba and his male classmates are excited to enter the dental hygiene field, sharing a drive to help and connect with others.

“The social aspect is a big factor that drew me to this career, and it still is a big motivator,” said Mikey E. Strohm III, a student from Thompsontown. “I would consider myself a social person, and I am excited to talk to all kinds of different people and get to know them and their experiences.”

“I’ve always enjoyed just talking to people, taking care of people, helping people out,” said Wangden T. Nangpa, of Medford, Massachusetts.

“I don’t like being glued to a desk all the time,” he added. “I want to be with other people. You get another person to yourself for a whole hour, and that’s exactly what I’m looking for in my profession.”

“I believe I excel at communicating on a one-on-one basis, and this will be perfect for me,” said Orlando D. Bellaman, a student from Annville.

Bellaman left warehouse work to pursue dental hygiene. “I told myself I would never work another warehouse job again. I put everything on the line, and that was the fuel to my fire.”

Similarly, Joshua Quigley, of Williamsport, left a job in education.

His four male classmates knew early on that they wanted to enter the dental field: Bellaman had excelled in a dental assisting program in high school and was named student of the year at the school in 2014. Strohm began researching the field when career-interest surveys consistently included dental in their lists of results. “I dug a little deeper … and became pretty passionate in pursuing it as my own career,” he said. And Turba had always wanted to be in the dental field. “I began dental assisting and wanted to do more,” he said.

But Quigley’s search took longer.

“I knew I wanted to help people; I knew that was why I was put on this earth,” Quigley said. But he didn’t know in what capacity until he went to get his teeth cleaned. He asked his dental hygienist – as he’d been asking many people – how she had found her passion.

“I listened to her story, and I got totally inspired,” he said. He likened the feeling he had when the hygienist allowed him to hold an instrument to an out-of-body experience. He called his girlfriend, who told him to sit on the idea before plowing ahead. After several months, his interest had not waned, so he began prerequisite coursework.

Both Bellaman and Quigley are excited to become the first in their families to graduate from college.

“All of my friends and family are excited I have chosen this pathway,” Bellaman said. “I am the first of my siblings to attend college. There has been nothing but support and motivation to keep pushing forward.”

Others, too, have experienced encouragement for their “nontraditional” career pursuit.

“Everyone around me has been very supportive in my career choice,” Strohm said. “There’s obviously a stereotype with dental hygiene – as well as many other jobs – that favors women working in this field, but my support system has never wavered or taken any stereotypes into consideration, and I am very fortunate and grateful for that.”

Their concerns about dental hygiene were more practical: Will workplace benefits support them in supporting their families? The major is information-heavy: Would two years of study on one body part become tedious?

“What I think might surprise someone in this field is the amount of knowledge there is to learn,” Bellaman said. “It seems never-ending, and at times you may not want to push any more, but I promise you, looking back on my progress, it was all a blip in time, it seems.”

“Dental hygiene is definitely cool; it’s interesting. A lot of people might think it’s information-heavy, very detailed, so specific that you don’t want to learn it,” Nangpa said. “But it’s interesting because it gets holistic if you look into it. If you’re a people person, definitely look into it.”

The promise of a career they love outweighs the stress and long hours of study.

“I’ve always been one who loves to see my work manifesting itself in real time,” Quigley said. “I love being able to see someone walk out with a smile, and the knowledge and empowerment they have leaving. … I’m excited and really happy to be able to use the tools that have been given to me so that other people can feel better about themselves or feel educated or be healthier.”

“Not to be corny, but a smile is important for self-esteem,” Nangpa said. “People overlook that body part. At some point, I didn’t have insurance. I had a stain on my teeth, and I didn’t take care of it. It wasn’t drastic, but I felt that it affected my self-esteem. So, to have someone take care of that for you, it has an impact.”

“The field is very unique in that, every day, you can guarantee that you will have a new experience, because all patients are different,” Strohm said.

The students feel prepared, thanks to the Penn College dental hygiene program’s faculty and staff (including Director Shawn A. Kiser, also a graduate of the college’s dental hygiene program) – and fellow students.

“This experience is teaching me more than dental hygiene; it is teaching me about who I am,” Quigley said. “This program and Penn College are bringing out the best in me and teaching me how to be the best me I can be. I am thrilled to be at Penn College and would not want to be anywhere else.”

“I also would describe my experience here at Penn College as nothing short of amazing,” Strohm said. “I don’t exaggerate in the slightest when I say that my instructors are some of the best I have ever had. They are always encouraging and supportive in everyone’s success, and they never waiver, no matter what they are experiencing.”

“There are going to be easy patients, and there are going to be challenging patients who we must be able to care for,” Bellaman said. “The program at Penn College is intensely rigorous and shows no shortage of information and real skills to learn.”

“Dental hygiene has allowed me to flourish into my own independent role in the dental office,” Turba, the former dental assistant, said. “I am about to embark on a whole new journey into the dental profession. I am thrilled to make a difference in people's lives, learn new techniques and continue to further my education.”

Penn College offers bachelor’s and associate degrees in dental hygiene. To learn more, call 570-327-4519.

For more about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.