Great Falls College cuts ribbon for expanded dental clinic
Hannah Johnson, a dental hygiene student, spoke about the excellence of the expanded clinic, but reminded all that the best part of the hygiene and assistant programs is the instructors.
GREAT FALLS, Mont. – Great Falls College MSU celebrated a major milestone Friday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its expanded dental clinic, which will allow the school to graduate more dental hygienists and dental assistants each year to fill workforce voids across Montana.
“Today represents another example of how Great Falls College MSU is meeting the career and technical education needs of our students, our employers and Montana,” said Dr. Waded Cruzado, president of Montana State University. “Montanans from all corners can count on Great Falls College to listen to their needs and adapt nimbly to those needs.”
The 2019 Legislature appropriated $4.25 million for the project, and Great Falls College used another $1.09 million of institutional funds to complete the addition.
The expansion will allow the only dental hygiene program in the state to accept an additional seven students into the program each year so it will be able to take in 25 students instead of 18.
The project added 12,000 square feet to the clinic and another 6,600 feet were remodeled, so students, faculty and staff will be able to work in a more modern, comfortable space that will give patients better privacy.
“Every time I hear someone mention how beautiful the new clinic is, I just say in my head, or sometimes out loud, ‘You have no idea how beautiful this place is!’” said Hannah Johnson, a second-year student in the hygiene program. “I think that unless you have tried to swivel your chair in an op this big with giant tarps hanging from the ceiling (the school separated each operatory with plastic sheets in the 2020-2021 school year because of Covid mitigation), you won’t know the rush of freedom as you swivel your chair around the client in the new op.”
In addition to the increased capacity for dental hygiene students, there will be increased capacity for dental assisting students, who take the program online from all over the state and then come to Great Falls every few weeks to do their clinicals in the one-year program. Great Falls College’s dental assisting program has been around since 1967. It and Salish-Kootenai College offer the only dental assisting programs in the state.
Dr. Susan J. Wolff, retired CEO/dean of Great Falls College who shepherded the legislative efforts for the facility in the 2015, 2017 and 2019 sessions, beamed at the ceremony as she thanked the many people who made it possible, including the broad bipartisan support of the 2019 Legislature.
She said “everyone exhibited a common goal and passion to bring this dental facility and landscaping to completion on time and on budget under extraordinary challenges” brought on by the pandemic.
Sen. Brian Hoven, R-Great Falls, a member of Great Falls College’s Development Board, praised the vision of Will Weaver, former dean of the college who started the program, for seeing the potential of the hygiene program and fostering a positive relationship with the local legislators that lasts today.
“Today is a glorious day for Great Falls, Great Falls College and the high school students of Montana who are looking for an education with outstanding job prospects,” Hoven said.
The ceremony included a presentation of $25,000 from the Montana Oral Health Foundation for the naming rights to an operatory. The reception area was named for Dan and Mary Beth Ewen and the student learning lab bears Alluvion Health’s name.
Dr. Stephanie Erdmann, who took the reins of the college on July 1 after Wolff’s retirement and served as emcee for the event, is appreciative of all of the work that has gone into the project and the sometimes tough working conditions of the past year as the dental clinic students, faculty and staff had to work around a major construction project.
“The Great Falls College dental team -- faculty, staff and students -- has worked feverishly to ensure this ceremony showcases this momentous occasion to the campus and community,” she said.
Johnson, the student, summed up what the expanded clinic means.
“With so much that has changed for the better, one thing that I was reminded of every time I showed someone around the new clinic was that the best, the absolute best part of Great Falls College’s dental hygiene and dental assisting programs has remained the same,” she said. “The instructors you find here are among the greatest teachers we could ever even hope to have. This new clinic is still filled with the same passionate, respectful, intelligent, altruistic people.”
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