Elder Colindres, in several ways, would not be where he’s at without his family.
The 2019 Flint Hills Technical College Dental Hygiene graduate said each of his four immediate family members have helped provide the motivation he needed to reach a goal he has had since he was a sophomore at Dodge City High School.
His parents, Elder and Rina, immigrated to Dodge City from Guatemala when Colindres was 8 years old. They moved to the United States in search of a better life for their young family, teaching their son about sacrifice and hard work along the way. But equally as key to his lot in life are his two younger sisters, ages 8 and 9.
“They’re the reason I bust my butt,” Colindres said of his sisters. “I got no student loans, so my parents have had to help me pay for all of it. They got me through, now I want to be able to get my sisters through.
“(My parents) don’t expect me to give back, but I want to give back. I’d buy them an island if I could.”
Always the goal
Colindres’ path to FHTC was not a direct one, though it wasn’t entirely unexpected.
After graduating high school in 2014, he attended Barton County Community College, where he was a three-time All-American in track and field. Following his time in Great Bend, he moved back to Dodge City and spent one year as a substitute teacher, though he always had the goal of becoming a dental hygienist.
“This has always been my goal, since I was a sophomore in high school,” he said. “I checked out a lot of places and their hygiene programs. Everyone here came across as warm and accepting. They just seemed like they were happy to be here.”
He, at one time, wanted to go into dentistry, but a conversation with one of the hygienists during a routine appointment changed his mind. They explained the importance of getting your teeth cleaned and the correlation a healthy mouth can have with a person’s overall health.
“Not a lot of people think about it, and that’s what bothers me,” he said. “Like, if you get an infection pretty much anywhere on your body, you’re going to take care of it. But, if you get gingivitis — that’s technically an infection, yet people don’t take care of it.”
Perhaps what sold him on the profession even more, however, was how well it fit his outgoing personality.
He said the relationships hygienists are able to build with their clients made him realize it was the right choice for him.
“When you go into the dentist’s office, who is the first person you’re going to see? Who are you going to spend more time with?” he said. “There’s more interaction. They get to know you and will remember you. You’ll talk to them every time you go in and build that patient and clinician relationship.”
When Colindres is pinned along with his fellow dentistry students at 6 p.m. tonight in the FHTC conference center, and when he speaks at the 10 a.m. Saturday commencement ceremony at White Auditorium, it will be the culmination of a great deal of work.
While attending school full-time, he has also worked 24 - 26 hours per week at the Short Stop convenience store on Industrial Road.
On a normal day during his final semester, Colindres woke up at 6:30 a.m. and was at school 40 minutes later, ready for a day of clinicals. He saw two patients a day, with lots of checks from instructors throughout. His school day ended at 4 p.m., but he had to be at work by 4:30 or 5 p.m. He worked until 11:30 p.m. or midnight, only to go home and study or do homework into the wee hours of the morning.
“The good thing about it is, the months go by insanely fast,” he said.
It was also not always easy to find patients, despite the cheap price of $20 for someone to get their teeth cleaned.
Coming from Dodge City, Colindres didn’t know anyone in Emporia prior to enrolling at FHTC. Beginning in their second semester, students are tasked with finding their own patients for clinicals.
“We’d be out at Walmart begging people to come get their teeth cleaned,” he said. “I don’t know if it was true or not, but a lot of times they would just say, ‘Oh, I just got my teeth cleaned,’ or they’d just stare at you and walk away.”
As his learning moved forward, he had to find patients with different requirements for the service he was providing. He tried to seek out clients with specific health conditions with which he had to work.
“You learn to pick up on certain clues,” he said.
A future hygienist
Colindres has one more test — which he will take in July — he must pass before all of his hard work has officially paid off. Once he has passed, he already has a job waiting for him at First Dental in Dodge City.
It was where he was a patient growing up, and where he first realized what he wanted to do with his life.
“Going there is what got me into it,” he said.
As he prepares to transition into his career, he is thankful for the path he took and that it brought him to FHTC.
Along with his family and friends, Colindres is also grateful for the people with whom he’s crossed paths and the experiences he’s had in Emporia.
“It’s been a great experience,” he said of his time at FHTC. “Everyone, and I mean everyone — the staff, instructors and even the custodians — have been so helpful. This is by far my favorite place, and I don’t regret a thing about my time here. Everyone kind of looks down on tech colleges, but here you’re not just a number, you’re a person.”