Three members of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine’s inaugural class were touched and inspired by the scholarships they received from the GECU Foundation earlier this year.
Last summer, the GECU Foundation announced a donation of $ 323,000 to the Hunt School of Dental Medicine in support of the Dean’s Excellence Fund and scholarships. The first three scholarship recipients were El Pasoans Steven Venzor, Paulette Ramirez and Michelle Hernandez.
The three classmates were shocked when Hunt School of Dental Medicine Dean Richard Black, DDS, MS, told them they had received GECU scholarships. In Ramirez’s case, she thought her ears had cheated on her.
âI didn’t know if I heard it right,â said Ramirez, a graduate of Burges High School and the University of Texas at El Paso. âI felt like I had passed out, so I had to ask him to repeat it. When he said it a second time, I knew it wasn’t a dream.
Hernandez and Venzor both attended Silva Health Magnet High School, across from Medical Sciences Building II, home of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine. Eight years ago, dental school was a dream Venzor didn’t think would come true. When the school’s opening was announced, he applied and hoped for the best. While studying for his final at UTEP, Dr Black called to offer him admission and scholarship in one fell swoop.
âTo be honest I broke down because I couldn’t believe it,â Venzor said. âI felt like it was supposed to be when I got the call from Dr. Black. Things went so perfectly that I had to say “yes”. I had to come here.
Hernandez worked while attending New Mexico State University, so receiving the dental school scholarship lifted a weight on her shoulders, allowing her to focus on her studies.
âThe stock market is going to give me a lot more financial support, so I don’t have to depend on other types of financial support, which results in more debt,â Hernandez said. âI’ve been a member of GECU since I was 16, so I feel like I already have a connection to the credit union. Life kind of came full circle to help me in the next phase.
The goal of the GECU Foundation is to help TTUHSC El Paso’s mission to improve life in El Paso and surrounding communities. It begins with financial assistance to members of the dental first class who will engage with Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic patients in their first semester. This early introduction to clinical training is part of how the Hunt School of Dental Medicine will deliver the most innovative curriculum in the country, just as the Foster School of Medicine did when it was established 11 years ago.
âThe philosophy of GECU is that people help people,â said Crystal Long, President and CEO of GECU. âOur foundation’s commitment to TTUHSC El Paso is a commitment to the health of our entire community. Our goal is to elevate El Paso through education, community programs and philanthropic giving.
This support motivates Hernandez to help patients as a student and later as a dentist. She said she sees GECU as a representative model of the community she hopes to serve.
âThe GECU has been so generous. How not to be inspired? Dr Black has told us over and over again that it is important to give back to the community and remember where we came from, âHernandez said. “This scholarship is definitely an incentive to give back to the community.”
Ramirez added that the GECU Foundation is a role model for her and her classmates. She can only hope one day to be seen in the same way by the community.
âI knew GECU was based in El Paso, but I had never realized before how invested they were in the community,â said Ramirez. “It makes me proud to be a member of the El Paso community and it makes me happy that I chose to pursue dentistry.”
The 38,000 square foot Texas Tech oral health clinic and its 145 treatment chairs will soon welcome patients from the community. The clinic is expected to be a premier dental care destination, providing affordable care not only for the public, but also for TTUHSC El Paso faculty, staff, students and their families.
Venzor said he knows firsthand how much the community of El Paso needs a state-of-the-art clinic. He is proud to be among the first group of students to care for residents.
âI grew up here and did my dental care in Ciudad JuÃ¡rez. I know what it’s like to be in this situation, to wait in long lines at the port of entry, âsaid Venzor. âI look forward to giving back to my community and providing world class patient care at Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic. “
A common theme among the 40 students in the first class of 2025 is that they are all determined to fulfill the university’s mission and serve the people of West Texas and the border region. This is a testament to the importance of providing better educational opportunities in the Borderland, as well as the need for a dental school in the region.
In 2017, only 50% of El Paso residents saw a dentist. In El Paso County, there is only one dentist per 4,840 people, compared to a national average of one dentist per 1,638. Since most graduate dentists set up their practices near their schools dentists, the Hunt School of Dental Medicine will help alleviate the severe shortage of dentists in the Paso del Norte area. It is the only dental school in West Texas and the first on the US-Mexico border. It is also one of the few Hispanic dental schools in the country, with 32.5% of the students in the inaugural class identifying themselves as Hispanic.
For more information, click here | For our full coverage, click here