Liz Koch Memorial Scholarship Recipients
2023 Scholarship Recipients
The DALE Foundation, the official affiliate of the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), is pleased to share that 13 recipients have been selected for the 2023 Liz Koch Memorial Scholarship. These recipients were chosen from more than 120 applicants across the country.
This was a record year for the number of applications received, as well as the number of recipients chosen and the funds awarded.
Sara Brennan, CDA
West Valley City, Utah
Sara Brennan entered dentistry 12 years ago and is employed as a dental assistant with the University of Utah School of Dentistry. She plans to use the scholarship award to earn an associate degree at Salt Lake Community College.
“I am very enthusiastic about continuing to grow in my career. My goal is not only to graduate from an accredited college, but also to be promoted.”
Elijah Brooks is a dental assisting student at Portland Community College. He completed an externship at Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry and is currently externing at a midsize dental practice.
“I’m very focused on learning about dental assisting and becoming ready to do that job correctly and compassionately. My goals include studying expanded functions and earning DANB CDA certification.”
Mahaley Decker, who has been in dentistry for eight years, works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at an oral maxillofacial surgery clinic. Decker holds certificates from the American Red Cross dental assistant training program.
“This scholarship will help me attain DANB CDA certification, and other DANB certifications, to continue to progress in the field I love.”
Brielle Hinds has more than five years of experience in dentistry and works as a dental assistant at a small dental practice. Hinds plans to use the scholarship award to offset the cost of the Pennsylvania state Expanded Functions Dental Assistant exam, the DANB CDA exam, and future dental CE courses.
“I hope to continue to grow and learn in dental assisting, as well as help others along the way.”
Cynthia Laduca has two years of experience in dentistry and works as a dental assistant on the pediatric and orthodontic teams with the Dental Associates of Connecticut.
“I want to help people, whether it’s through prevention, healing, or education. Now, I have my sights set on passing DANB’s Radiation Health and Safety exam to allow me to take radiographs and one day becoming a DANB CDA.”
Viridiana Mandujano Caballero
Candler, North Carolina
Viridiana Mandujano Caballero works as a dental assistant at Western North Carolina Community Health Services. She plans to use the scholarship award for DANB certification and the Mountain Area Health Education Center’s nitrous sedation monitoring course.
“I am always eager to learn new procedures, terminology, and techniques.”
Victoria Murphy has worked as a dental assistant in a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital setting for 13 years. She enjoys helping patients improve their smiles and overall health, as well as educating them about oral hygiene.
“I am eager to improve and advance in my position so I can help others in my field. In order to advance in my employment, I need to become DANB certified.”
Theresa Rogers McCool, CDA
Theresa Rogers McCool has 38 years of experience in dentistry and works in a federally qualified healthcare center dental office. She plans to complete the OSAP-DALE Foundation Dental Infection Prevention and Control Certificate, DALE Foundation dental office management courses, and courses on American Sign Language and Spanish.
“I enjoy meeting other dental assisting professionals, while also advancing my knowledge.”
Briana Sandoval has worked in dentistry for more than three years and is employed as a dental assistant in a small practice. Sandoval plans to use the scholarship award to take the DANB RHS exam and study with DALE Foundation materials, as well as for a phlebotomy course.
“My career path in dentistry is simple but clear: I want to learn all that I possibly can and become the best dental assistant that I can be.”
Alina Shen, CDA
Alina Shen began teaching dental radiology three years ago as a University of Alaska Anchorage adjunct faculty member. She plans to use the scholarship funds for DANB certification renewal, Basic Life Support training recertification, and a radiology educator’s workshop.
“It is incredibly fulfilling teaching the dental professionals of tomorrow.”
Ethan Skacy graduated from the Carrington College Dental Assisting program in 2022. He completed an externship in a general dentistry office and has his sights set on earning DANB’s CDA certification.
“I want to soak up as much knowledge of the dental field as I can. I have goals for myself — including setting an example for my younger siblings.”
Anita Stigall has 20 years of experience in dentistry and works for Kanning Dental in Richmond. Stigall plans to use the scholarship funds to complete expanded functions courses at Ozarks Technical Community College and pursue DANB CDA and Certified in Dental Infection Prevention and Control (CDIPC) certifications.
“I look forward to many more years of learning and helping patients.”
Shantel Tallsalt, CDA
Shantel Tallsalt started her career in dentistry 12 years ago. She has worked in general dentistry and oral maxillofacial surgery. She plans to enroll in a community college, earn expanded function credentials, and take DANB’s Temporaries and Restorative Functions exams.
“I am committed to continuing education and no longer want to keep saying, ‘what if?’ I’ve decided to invest more into my future.”
Ashley Blake, of Littleton, Maine, has worked as a dental assistant at a private dental practice in Houlton for more than three years. She plans to use her scholarship award to offset the cost of the DANB General Chairside Assisting exam, in pursuit of earning DANB Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification.
“Having my CDA credential isn’t just a dream anymore, because I am so close to completing it! And my dental assistant career won’t cease there,” Blake shares. “I plan on furthering my studies and eventually earning an expanded functions credential. I’m always challenging myself to learn. I’m passionate about patient oral healthcare and patient safety and satisfaction.”
Rachelle Keyonnie, CDA
Rachelle Keyonnie, CDA, of Winslow, Arizona, has been a dental assistant at Winslow Indian Health Care Center for more than five years, and has completed expanded functions training through Indian Health Services. Keyonnie is working toward an associate degree in arts at Northland Pioneer College with plans to focus on public health. She expects to graduate in spring 2023, and her scholarship award will go toward offsetting that cost. In her career, Keyonnie strives to continue mentoring dental assistant colleagues and aims to earn a bachelor’s degree and go further into the dental field.
“The Liz Koch Memorial Scholarship funds will help me reach my goals,” Keyonnie says. “This is something I want more than anything, to make my family proud. I love dentistry and want to reach 50 years in the field — like my mother, who was a CDA certificant through DANB for 49 years!”
Stacey Kruger, CDA, CDIPC
Stacey Kruger, CDA, CDIPC, of Wabasha, Minnesota, works as the lead dental assistant at Wabasha Dentistry. She has been in the dental field for more than five years, holding the roles of dental assistant, lead assistant, and infection control officer. Kruger graduated from Rochester Community and Technical College in spring 2018 and shortly after earned DANB CDA certification. Kruger also has earned Certified in Dental Infection Prevention and Control (CDIPC) certification, and she intends to use her scholarship award to obtain Dental Industry Specialist in Infection Prevention and Control (DISIPC) certification.
“My plan for professional development is to further my dental career in the infection control field. In doing this, I will open doors to my future,” Kruger shares. “I have held my head high and committed to learning all about the regulations we are required to follow to keep our patients safe, along with ourselves.”
Kayla Marks, CDA
Kayla Marks, CDA, of Stoughton, Wisconsin, is a dental assistant instructor at Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville, serving on the Blackhawk Technical College Dental Advisory Board. She has spent more than 20 years in the dental field, as both a dental assistant and dental hygienist. Marks holds an associate degree in dental hygiene from Madison Area Technical College, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and sociology from the University of Wisconsin (UW)-La Crosse. Marks plans to use her scholarship award for a certificate in career and technical education leadership from UW-Stout.
“Throughout my career, I have been especially drawn toward team leadership, coordinating continuing education experiences, and implementing new systems. Ultimately, I found the roles that provide me with the most fulfillment are teaching and leading,” Marks shares. “The Liz Koch Memorial Scholarship will help me immensely to complete my leadership certificate curriculum. I am a determined and focused person, and I will continue to bring experience, compassion, and empathy to the learning experience of my students.”
Charlene Thomas, CDA, EFDA
Charlene Thomas, CDA, EFDA, of Boise, Idaho, has been working in dental assisting for more than 20 years. In 2015, she joined Terry Reilly Health Services, a federally qualified health center, where Thomas currently serves as Dental Assistant Supervisor. She plans to use her award toward attending the 2022 National Network for Oral Health Access (NNOHA) Annual Conference, as well as obtaining DANB CDIPC certification.
“As an NNOHA member, I have enjoyed the experience of getting to connect with others, while also expanding my clinical knowledge. These conferences have provided a wealth of information on best practices to bring back to our offices to modify our workflows,” says Thomas. “Last year at the NNOHA conference in San Antonio is where I learned about CDIPC certification, and since then it has become a professional-development goal. Infection prevention and control is a topic that I am very interested in and passionate about. It’s important to keep ourselves, our peers, and our patients safe.”
Joanna L. Girdner, CDA, EFDA
Joanna L. Girdner, CDA, EFDA, of Westerville, Ohio, has been working in the dental assisting profession for nearly 20 years. She now has her sights set on earning an associate degree in dental hygiene from Columbus State Community College, where she’s currently enrolled. Girdner plans to use her scholarship earnings toward the tuition cost.
“I have dedicated myself to learning everything I can,” says Girdner. “I have a ferocious appetite for knowledge. Learning will not stop with earning my associate degree. I will continue my journey to obtain my bachelor’s degree
as well in dental hygiene, and I hope to finish my career by teaching the future generation of dental professionals.”
Kalyn Rhodes, CDA
Kalyn Rhodes, CDA, of Murphysboro, Illinois, has been a dental assistant for more than four years for Shawnee Health Service in southern Illinois. Since June 2021, she has been working toward completing the expanded functions dental assisting program at John A. Logan College and plans to use her scholarship to offset the tuition cost.
“I have been on the search for more ways to provide for my patients,” says Rhodes. “Bringing new expanded-functions skill sets to my practice will not only help in developing my lifelong career in oral healthcare, but also bring more opportunities to mentor other dental assistants looking to grow in this rewarding and ever-changing field.”
Clarissa Torgersen of Ingleside, Illinois, has been working at a pediatric dental practice in Lake Zurich, Illinois, for nearly nine years. In 2016, she transitioned from the role of assistant to clinical coordinator for the practice. Her responsibilities now include overseeing clinical staff training, mentoring new dental assistants and coordinating staff continuing education. Education remains top of mind for Torgersen in her own career as well – she plans to put her scholarship toward earning DANB certification, plus an expanded functions dental assistant credential.
“This scholarship would be a tremendous help in my continuous efforts of obtaining as much education and training to further my career in the oral healthcare field,” says Torgersen. “I have many education and career goals, plus an overall passion for dentistry.”
Jacqueline Wilson of Forest, Virginia, has been working as a dental assistant for almost eight years. She plans to put her scholarship funds toward earning DANB Certified Dental Assistant™ (CDA®) certification.
“I am very eager to pass the required exams to finally obtain DANB CDA certification,” says Wilson. “This scholarship will help me to further advance my education and career goals. I strive to go on to earn DANB Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA®) certification as well. Through holding DANB certifications, I feel I’ll be able to do even more not only for my employers, but also for my community. I am so passionate about dentistry.”
Jorge Colon Jr.
Jorge Colon Jr. of Harrington, Delaware, has been working as a dental assistant for about seven years, currently with a public health clinic in Georgetown, Delaware. Colon also works in dental assisting education at Delaware Technical Community College. He plans to use his scholarship funds to take DANB’s Infection Control and General Chairside Assisting exams to earn Certified Dental Assistant™ (CDA®) certification.
“In my roles, I help bring back patients’ smiles, as well as bring new knowledge to those who wish to elevate their education in the dental field,” Colon shares. “I am seeking to become DANB certified, because it is my hope to elevate our educational program and continue to pass on my knowledge and experience.”
Dalena Ha of Hillsboro, Oregon, works at Kaiser Permanente as a dental assistant and is currently attending Johns Hopkins University to pursue a biotechnology master’s degree with a concentration in regenerative and stem cell technologies. In the past, Ha worked as a dental assistant with dental services at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in conjunction with Oregon Health and Science University. She plans to use her scholarship funds toward dental school application and ultimately aims to advocate for the special needs and medically complex patient population.
“I strive to improve my knowledge in patient care,” Ha says. “Patients look to their providers for support to get through obstacles in their lives. Through my personal work experiences, I have learned that honing my patient-care skills — such as being compassionate and open-minded — will allow me to provide extended support for my patients, as well as ensure their safety.”
Valinda Johnston, CDA
Valinda Johnston, CDA, of Pleasant Grove, Utah, has been working as a dental assistant for more than 30 years. She also has experience as a treatment coordinator, and with coordinating and teaching continuing dental education offered by her dentist employer, as well as providing in-office consulting nationwide. Johnston now is pursuing a Health Science and Services degree at Brigham Young University-Idaho, with plans to use her scholarship funds toward this tuition cost.
“As a French author said, ‘A goal without a plan is just a wish.’ I have always wished to go back to school and earn my bachelor’s degree,” Johnston says. “Life has brought many challenges and hardships that put my goal of going back to school on hold. It is the right time now. I have the plan and an attainable goal. In the future, I hope to continue working in the dental field, teaching and consulting, and in dental research.”
Gina Conrad, CDA, MADAA
Gina Conrad, CDA, MADAA, of Antioch, Tennessee, works at the office of David W. Harr, D.M.D., where she is a registered dental assistant. She holds an Associate of Science degree from Motlow State Community College, as well as fellowship and mastership in the American Dental Assistants Association. Currently, Conrad is pursuing a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers School of Health Professions; she plans to use her scholarship for tuition. She aspires to one day become a dental assistant educator. “Being a dental assistant instructor is a goal that I would like to master within the next few years. This scholarship will help me reach my goal,” Conrad shares.
Iris Jeannette Guilbe-Carter, CDA
Iris Jeannette Guilbe-Carter, CDA, of Concord, North Carolina, has worked as a dental assistant for the past 20 years at the office of Henry D. Duncan, D.D.S. She is a 2000 graduate of the dental assisting program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. Guilbe-Carter is currently enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in public health; she has her sights set on attending dental school in the future. Guilbe-Carter plans to use her scholarship for her tuition and books as well as to help offset dental school application costs and a Dental Admissions Test preparation course. “My ultimate goal includes graduating from dental school,” she says.
Elisha Ricker, of Puyallup, Washington, has worked as a dental assistant in private practice for the past two years and is now studying to be a dental hygienist at Seattle Central College (SCC). Ricker plans to use his scholarship for tuition. He aspires to ultimately earn a master’s degree and become a dental hygiene educator and public health advocate. “I am ecstatic to finally be pursuing my career in dental hygiene through SCC and will stop at nothing to make my dream of public health service a reality,” Ricker shares. “Oral healthcare is my passion, and with your help, I strive to make it a lifelong career.”
Kaitlyn Wakelee, of Vienna, Virginia, works as a surgical assistant for Virginia Oral, Facial & Implant Surgery and is a part-time student at Northern Virginia Community College, where she is pursuing an Associate of Science degree. Wakelee plans to use her scholarship for tuition. “Receiving this scholarship is an honor and will help me to expand my knowledge and skills to better myself as a professional,” Wakelee shares. “I’m a motivated, driven and dedicated dental assistant and student.”
Shawnee Delo, of Richmond, Virginia, works as a dental assistant at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Dentistry. She plans to apply the scholarship funds toward earning DANB’s Certified Dental Assistant certification, as well as toward registering for Spanish-language courses.
“I strongly feel that completion of these classes will greatly benefit me in the workplace and help Spanish-speaking families feel more comfortable knowing they can communicate in their native language during their visit,” Delo says.
Elizabeth Polak-Silva, CDA
Elizabeth Polak-Silva, CDA, of Bristol, Connecticut, works at Kids Dental Care in Bristol. She aspires to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT) and apply to dental schools. Polak-Silva plans to use her scholarship to offset the application costs, as well as to fund a DAT preparation course.
“I share Liz Koch’s belief in lifelong learning,” she says. “That is why I want to further my education and become a dentist. My dream, as a future dentist, is to organize dental mission trips and encourage other dental professionals to join me.”
Robynn Rixse, CDA
Robynn Rixse, CDA, of Landisville, Pennsylvania, will apply her scholarship to her tuition at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration. Rixse is the 2018-2019 president-elect of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), as well as an ADAA Fellow and Master. She also aspires to join the American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM) and work toward becoming an AADOM Fellow, which includes the completion of DALE Foundation office management courses, among other requirements.
“Education has always been a priority for me,” she says.
Sheila Seevers, CDA
Sheila Seevers, CDA, of Newberg, Oregon, is currently instructing dental assistants at Portland Community College on a part-time basis. She aspires to transition into teaching full-time by earning her master’s degree in career and technical education through Concordia University’s online program. Seevers will apply her scholarship to her tuition for this online program.
“Like Liz Koch, I too strongly value continuing education in whatever field one happens to be passionate about,” Seevers says. “I have a very strong belief that learning is a never-ending process.”
Tajuana L. Barnes, CDA
Tajuana L. Barnes, CDA, of Memphis, Tennessee, is a dental assistant at Christ Community Health Service in Memphis. She plans to use her scholarship to complete a restorative functions course at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Dentistry by January 2018 and then enroll in an expanded prosthetic functions course. She also plans to earn additional DANB certifications in the future.
Elizabeth Justice, CDA
Elizabeth Justice, CDA, of Westover, Maryland, earned DANB Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification in 2013. After graduating with an associate of science degree from Wor-Wic Community College in Salisbury, Maryland, she went on to work as a full-time dental assistant with the oral surgery office of Lynn F. Ascher, D.M.D. Justice plans to use her scholarship to fund summer classes and textbooks at Salisbury University, where she is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in community health education.
Elizabeth Ledford, of Cottonwood, Arizona, is a dental assisting student at Rio Salado College in Tempe, Arizona. Upon graduation, she plans to use her scholarship to volunteer abroad in 2018 as a dental assistant with Global Health Outreach to mentor local healthcare workers and provide comprehensive dental care to the underserved. Ledford also plans to apply the funds to earn DANB certification, as well as complete additional continuing education.
Rebecca Santiago, CDA
Rebecca Santiago, CDA, of Cameron, North Carolina, has held DANB certification for the past 14 years and is currently employed with the U.S. Army. Santiago plans to use her scholarship toward tuition and textbooks at Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst, North Carolina, where she is pursuing a degree in business administration, with the goal of one day managing a dental practice.
Alvin Hsieh, CDA
Alvin Hsieh, CDA, has been a dental assistant in the United States Air Force for more than three years and is currently stationed in Germany, where he works with the oral maxillofacial surgery team. He plans on using his award to renew DANB Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification and continue his professional development goals, including earning DANB’s Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA) certification.
Katrina Knapp, CDA
Katrina Knapp, CDA, earned DANB certification in 2014 after graduating from Wake Tech Community College in North Carolina, where she completed more than three times the required professional development hours and served as the dental assistant class speaker at the Wake Tech health science open house. Knapp will use her scholarship to continue her dental career by completing dental hygiene school and earning a bachelor’s degree.
Kantres Davis, CDA
Kantres Davis, CDA, has been a dental assistant for more than five years. After realizing that the first dental assisting program she attended was not accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), Davis’ dedication didn’t waver. Instead, she enrolled in a CODA-accredited program and earned DANB CDA certification in an effort to set herself apart in the field. Davis plans to use her award for an expanded functions course at Missouri College.
Laura Vickery, CDA
Laura Vickery, CDA, began her career as a dental assistant by volunteering at a local nonprofit dental clinic. There she realized her passion for the dental field and what could become a fulfilling career. Since then, she has continued to “quench her thirst for knowledge” with additional classes and volunteering at oral surgery clinics. Vickery intends to use her scholarship to earn DANB CDA certification, with the ultimate goal of teaching in a dental assistant program.
L’tanya Barnes, CDA, has been a longtime dental assistant since completing her training at a local high school. Her diverse career has included working in various dental offices, teaching dental assisting classes and earning DANB CDA. She will use her award to become an Expanded Functions Dental Assistant (EFDA) in Ohio.
Amber Justus, CDA
Amber Justus, CDA, began her career in the dental field after graduating from high school when she enrolled in a dental hygiene school. But before she could complete her studies, she put her career on hold to spend time with her daughter. Justus has since re-entered the field. She earned DANB certification and enrolled in an EFDA program at Miami Jacobs University in Ohio. Justus plans to apply her scholarship toward her EFDA coursework.
Alli Jensen, CDA
Alli Jensen, CDA, has a passion for lifelong learning and dental assisting. After completing dental assisting school with achievements that include making both the Dean’s and President’s Lists, Jensen went on to earn DANB CDA certification. She plans to use her award to earn DANB Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA) certification.
Bijan Mahboubi is a dental assistant who holds master’s degrees in biochemistry and molecular biology. As a biochemist, Mahboubi translates scientific research into practical applications that everyone can use to better understand oral health. He will use his scholarship to fund his trip to India, where he will work with a dentist to provide free dental care to people who don’t have access to oral health care and educate them about oral health.
Guadalupe Charles, CDA
Guadalupe Charles, CDA, has been a dental assistant for over four years, and she already knows it is her calling. “I would like to give back to the community and help those who cannot afford dental care, such as myself when I was younger,” she says. Charles grew up in Chile and is motivated to take advantage of all the opportunities available in the United States. She is currently enrolled in a dental assisting program and will use her scholarship toward DANB’s Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification. In her role as a dental assistant, she has worked her way up from trainee to trainer. “I share my knowledge with my fellow assistants, motivating them to be the best they can be,” she says. Charles plans to continue developing her skills and knowledge while making time to volunteer in the community.
Sherri Krohn, discovered her passion for oral healthcare when she began her career in 1999. She worked as a chairside assistant and eventually transitioned to office management, where she has worked for the last five years. In that role, Krohn has helped coordinate the opening of two additional practices within her company, and has become active with the American Association of Dental Office Managers (AADOM). Krohn plans to apply for an AADOM Fellowship and hopes to be inducted next year. “I absolutely love what I do, love getting up and coming to work in the morning,” she says, “and I believe that we can never stop learning!”
Elizabeth Polak-Silva, CDA
Elizabeth Polak-Silva, CDA, has been impacting patients and her community as a dental assistant since she began studying at Tunxis Community College in Connecticut in 2011. After moving to the U.S. from Poland in 2004, Silva earned DANB's CDA certification in 2012 and has continued her education since then. She plans to apply the scholarship toward a bachelor’s degree program, and eventually attend dental school. In her work and studies, Silva embodies a commitment to lifelong learning. “I learn something new about dentistry with every patient I meet and every x-ray I take,” she says. “I strive to take every opportunity I get to learn something new.”
Rebecca Horne, CDA
Rebecca Horne, CDA, of Massachusetts, found her passion for dental assisting while she was in school. Today, Horne works in an orthodontic practice, where she helps coordinate a team of employees and two offices. She will use her scholarship to earn DANB’s Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA) certification. “I believe we can lead by example,” she says. “I plan on continuing to inspire those around me to see what a dental assistant can achieve.”
Kandra Luna, CDA, EFDA, EFODA
Kandra Luna, CDA, EFDA, EFODA, of Oregon, has always believed in dreaming big, and with the encouragement of her mentors, she completed a dental assisting program. She now works at a general dental practice while pursuing her bachelor’s degree. Luna will apply her scholarship award toward her DANB Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification, which she earned earlier this year. Her next goal is to work in dental assisting education and help students achieve their goals. “I am motivated to help others accomplish their goals and strive to do their best,” she says.