Second try at college works for GRCC dental hygiene student



Leah Nixon

Director of Communications

(616) 234-4213

April 18, 2016 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Whenever a dental hygiene program student encountered an obstacle on her education journey, somebody at Grand Rapids Community College was there to say, "You can do this!"

Abigail Cuevas first attended GRCC in 2001 but left after her first semester. A teenage mom, she needed to find a job to support her family. She planned to simply work her way up the ladder but found that wasn't happening. Her sister encouraged her to give college another try.

"I was extremely nervous that I would be the oldest student in class," Cuevas said. "But as the time went on, I noticed there were plenty of older students returning.  I was determined to do it because I knew I was not getting any younger and had no time to waste."

After completing the prerequisite courses, Cuevas was on the waiting list to enter the dental hygiene program. That's when she ran into a major setback: She suffered an epileptic seizure and was in a car accident. She could no longer drive on her own and was faced with the problem of getting herself and her kids to school on time, in addition to a demanding coursework and study schedule. She considered quitting.

But Cuevas was surrounded by people who weren't going to let her do that. 

"With the help of my husband, family, classmates -- and a ton of Uber rides -- I made it to class every day," she said. "I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I told myself, 'it was a setback,' 'life could be worse,' 'just be grateful.'

“I would not let anything stop me from finishing. I did not want this to be one of those things I started and didn’t complete -- plus my family was counting on me, and I didn’t want to let them down."

Cuevas also didn't want to disappoint the people at GRCC who believed in her. She found one source of encouragement in Eve Sidney, director of the dental program. 

"The first time I met her was at orientation," Cuevas said of Sidney. "She was very sweet and encouraging to all of us -- up until she said, 'This will be the hardest thing you ever do in life. If you can do this, then you can do anything.' I was very nervous right after that because I didn’t see myself as a person who keeps going when things get tough."

GRCC's dental program can be challenging, Sidney said.

"As a full-time student with a family, balancing studies and responsibilities at home required additional patience, coordination and effort on Abby's part," Sidney said. "Each time we spoke of her challenges, I encouraged her to stick with it and devote additional time and energy into studying and practicing the skills that will make her a good hygienist. Abby has done just that!"

Cuevas also found time to make friends with everyone around her at GRCC: the staff who run the tutoring labs and the student lounges, the custodians, Raider Grille employees and financial aid advisers.

"They all encouraged me at one point or another to tell me, 'You're almost done -- don’t give up' and it was usually when I needed to hear it the most," she said. 

Cuevas will receive her Associate of Applied Arts and Sciences degree during GRCC's commencement at 7 p.m. April 29 at the Van Andel Arena, 130 Fulton St. W.  She hopes to work in a community clinic and help provide dental care for people who cannot afford it.

Grand Rapids Community College has been offering educational opportunities in West Michigan for 100 years. Established in 1914, the college offers degree courses, certification and training programs, and workshops and personal enrichment classes. Offerings are held on GRCC’s downtown Grand Rapids campus, and at several locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties, as well as through distance learning.