Eight students and one faculty member from Oregon Tech's Dental Hygiene Program in Klamath Falls traveled to St. George, Grenada, this summer as part of a service trip. The group provided dental hygiene services to underserved populations with limited or no dental care access.
The trip was part of the International Externship Program (IEP), which gives students an opportunity to travel outside the United States and to provide dental care in nontraditional settings and within new cultures.
The 2022 IEP team members were senior students Surayha Cox, Callie Drescher, Kade Hutchins, Tim Le, Chelsea Thomas, Abbi Thompson, Gabby Tomas, and Lauren Vo. Assistant Professor Jeannie Bopp arranged the trip and traveled with the students.
"Due to COVID, the last IEP trip for this campus was in 2019, so it was exciting to have this experience again," Bopp said. "The air travel was grueling with long layovers and canceled flights, but Oregon Tech can be very proud of how this team represented the university and the Dental Hygiene Program."
Gabby Tomas shared, "Over the course of the trip, I grew tremendously as a person. I realized how much I take for granted, and the experience has humbled me as a person."
The non-profit Great Shape Inc. promoted the dental clinic services throughout Grenada, and a clinic was set up in the national cricket stadium, where patients made appointments for treatment.
"Although this was to eliminate large crowds, word traveled fast, and six dentists and the Oregon Tech Dental Hygiene students served over 500 people," Bopp said.
Callie Drescher shared, "It really wasn't solely about cleaning teeth; it was about hearing these people's stories, their experience (or lack thereof) with dental care, and their appreciation towards the little things in life."
The trip provided much-needed dental care to underserved populations and gave students an opportunity to develop confidence, skills, and a passion for community service. These skills can benefit them in future work settings such as public health, dental missions, rural health, and mobile dentistry.
"It helped me have a more complete view of the world and showed me how privileged my life is," Tim Le said. "It also made me want to be more active in volunteering projects, both back at home and in other countries."
Along with navigating difficult travel, students learned to deal with portable equipment run by old compressors, hot, humid temperatures, and hot bus rides to and from the site.
"Through this trip, these students have experienced the power of compassion, teamwork, and giving their knowledge and skills to change the lives of the less fortunate. Upon graduation, they will be amazing leaders as they apply this experience to their communities," Bopp said.
Kade Hutchins shared, "I learned that a team of strangers with a common goal can come together, and come together strong."
Each student participating in the IEP raises their own money through private funds, donations, and fundraising events. To learn more about how to support IEP trips, contact Jeannie Bopp at firstname.lastname@example.org.