"I feel fortunate every day that I am working for Pacific in general, the Dugoni School in particular and especially our little dental hygiene program."
Deborah Horlak spent more than 20 years as a dental hygienist in private practice before deciding to go into teaching. Growing up around her dad who owned a dental supply company, she knew that the dental field was where she wanted to be. She went to Ohio State University to pursue a dental hygiene degree and started working with a pediatric dentist soon after graduation.
"I loved the practice and working in pediatrics," recalls Deborah. "There was a lot of variety, stimulation and action."
However, since the importance of ergonomics was not something covered in school, over time, the work took a toll on her body. Pondering what her next move would be, she thought about the wealth of knowledge and experience she had to offer. Deborah thought she could positively impact many more patients' lives by teaching students.
So in 1999 she moved to California, earned her master's degree in higher education administration and taught in a two-year program at San Joaquin Valley College. A chance encounter with Dr. Cindy Lyon — then dental hygiene program director at Pacific — at an ADEA meeting eventually led Deborah to Pacific.
"I met Cindy because we were sitting at the same table," said Deborah. "We ended up talking about the hygiene program at Pacific and it sounded like an ideal fit for me."
Deborah reconnected with Cindy a few years later, started teaching at Pacific and eventually became director of the dental hygiene program. Based at the Stockton campus, the accelerated three-year program leading to a bachelor of science degree in dental hygiene was the first of its kind in the United States. There have been seven graduating classes since it began.
What Deborah enjoys most about teaching is the interaction with the students. When students understand what she is trying to teach them, she can see them light up with comprehension and connect what they've learned to how they provide clinical services. Another equally important benefit is that she learns as much from them as they do from her.
She also loves the variety in her job. Deborah describes herself as a generalist — she knows a little bit about everything. She enjoys solving problems and deals with everything from students coming to her for help to making changes in the program. She likes change, and with her team, she does a lot of internal evaluation of their teaching methods and making adjustments to the curriculum. Her favorite part of the position is the people. She is inspired not only by the interaction with the students, but also the dental hygiene faculty and staff.
"I strongly believe in the humanistic philosophy, which I did not experience as a student," said Deborah. "I feel fortunate every day that I am working for Pacific in general, the Dugoni School in particular and especially our little dental hygiene program."