Dental students return to PCC but at a new facility — the Vanport Building
A year ago, like the rest of the world, the Portland Community College Dental Hygiene and Assisting students were thrown a curveball. When the pandemic hit, PCC was forced to transition to virtual operations that resulted in it closing in-person classes indefinitely.
The move was devastating. Dental students need in-person practice on real patients in order to have the skills and experience to join a workforce that is already short on qualified workers.
PCC Dental Clinic Opens
PCC’s brand new dental clinic is up and running at the Vanport Building in downtown Portland (1810 SW 5th Ave., on the third floor). The clinic offers low-cost dental care to community members who, by booking appointments with the program, help train the college’s talented dental hygiene and assisting students.
At the clinic, students also provide dental exams, dental X-rays, cleanings, small fillings and sealants, under the supervision of licensed professionals. The cost is no more than $25 for a visit, and often less. Appointments are three to four hours long and work may require multiple visits.
To make an appointment, call 971-722-4909 or email email@example.com.
“We all kind of panicked,” remembered Jennifer Osawa, a dental hygiene student. “We wondered, ‘How can this be? This is not going to work for this kind of education. What happens if we lose our skills? We would have to start the program over.’
“I think all of us, when learning new skills, are trying to build muscle memory in our hands and bodies,” she added. “We have to practice our posturing and such. A year away is a lot.”
With much hard work, PCC was able to either help dental students continue their training or complete their education.
This spring term — more than a year later when PCC went to remote or online instruction — the dental assisting and hygiene students, as well as the college’s new dental clinic return to a brand new space in downtown Portland — the Vanport Building.
Dental Hygiene Bounces Back
When PCC went to remote operations, 38 Dental Hygiene Program students were enrolled — 20 in their second year and 18 in their first. Working with college resources, Dental Director Josette Beach was able to help the second-year students graduate at the end of summer 2020. But, the first-year hopefuls were just finishing their classroom work and beginning to transfer their skills and work onto actual patients.
For those 18 students, they continued taking online didactic classes, but they could not practice those learned skills on actual patients. One of them is Laura Loaiciga Ulloa, who said staying home was a challenge.
“I was stressed about all of my classes and my life at home,” Ulloa said. “My daughter was home, and she wasn’t used to going to online school. My son was 3 years old, and he was home too. It was very stressful. I was OK with a few terms online, and I tried to adapt to online school, but I preferred in-person classes.”
When spring term began on March 29, these students were finally able to return to the classroom for resumption of in-person classes and training. They are now on their way to completing their state-mandated 540 hours of clinical practice and will graduate from the program this fall.
“Some of the things that we did to support them was to implement a new formal mentoring program during remote operations,” Beach said. “We paired each student with an instructor to act as a mentor to touch base with the students. We wanted the students to know that they had a connection to somebody who cared about what was going on with them and who they could ask any questions. We wanted to have a good pulse on how the students were doing.”
Last October, Beach and her team worked with the PCC Foundation and it’s “Big Give Day” fundraiser. In the end, $7,775 was raised to help pay for a two-credit “Skills Review” class for students to take before going back into the dental clinic and working on patients.
“We weren’t just going to throw them into treating patients without making sure that they had reviewed and we’re ready,” Beach explained. “The fact that the community donated money so that they would not have to pay for those extra credits to get that review class was a big boost to our students.”
Dental Assisting Continues Good Work
The Dental Assisting Certificate is a nine-month stint in the classroom designed to help students learn the skills needed to quickly enter the workforce. When the pandemic started, the cohort of 43 students was only a few months away from finishing up their hands-on training. Staff worked hard to help the students complete the required externships at local dental offices and wrap-up their certificates by the end of summer 2020, a mere one term later than usual.
“They weren’t gathering together as a group, and we provided the appropriate personal protective equipment for each of them,” Beach said. “Also, the offices were willing to have them.”
In addition, a brand new group of 18 part-time students began their certificates. Before this cohort, PCC only offered a full-time program, but there was a need to serve students who could not commit to a full-time school schedule. Last fall, the students started taking online classes, and are now experiencing their first in-person learning this spring.
The college also offers its traditional full-time Dental Assisting Program, and currently has 41 students enrolled.
Vanport Building Welcomes PCC
However, the Dental Program hasn’t returned to its old facility at the Sylvania Campus. The program is resuming in-person training at its new location — the Vanport Building (Southwest Fifth Avenue and Montgomery St.).
It’s a massive step up. The two programs moved to Vanport from its space at the Health Technology Building (built in the late 1960s) at Sylvania. The synergy at the new downtown Portland facility is electric. PCC partnered with Portland State University, the City of Portland and Oregon Health & Science University to provide a range of healthcare services and community resources at one location.
“We had everything happening at once,” Beach noted. “We were starting a new part-time cohort that we hadn’t done before. We had to pack up our offices and the dental clinic on the Sylvania Campus and move. But because of the pandemic and the continued construction, we couldn’t get into the new building. So we packed everything up, and then everything sat for months.”
It wasn’t until recently that the faculty and staff could enter the third floor of the seven-story Vanport Building and start preparing for the opening of the new classrooms, clinic and offices.
PCC’s new third-floor, generously supported by Willamette Dental Group, includes a low-cost dental clinic, four labs consisting of a simulation and radiology lab, three classrooms, student lounge, faculty offices and waiting area for patients. The new digs are more than three times the size of its Sylvania space, with more than 30,000 square feet at its disposal.
“It’s huge,” Portland Community College Planning & Capital Construction Technology Manager Debra Jarcho explained. “One of the things that make it seem so large is the floor-to-ceiling windows around the entire floor. It’s so much light, and it’s really beautiful.”
As with everything that PCC is involved in, diversity, equity and inclusion were also a part of the construction process. Critical Race Theory was used in the planning and the building’s name honors a long-gone but not forgotten piece of Black history — the City of Vanport.
Vanport, which was washed away by the 1948 Memorial Day Flood, was home to a majority of Black Oregonians who could not find housing outside of the Albina neighborhood. Men and women who were hired to work in the Kaiser shipyards that aided the wartime manufacturing boom lived in Vanport. In 1946, the city became the home to the Vanport Extension Center, the predecessor of Portland State University.
According to the notes from the steering committee that was charged with the naming of the new building at Fourth and Montgomery, “Vanport was a symbol of triumph over bigotry, adversity, environmental racism, and the ability for people to come together in the face of those things to create an equitable, just community wherever they find themselves.”