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Meet Rachel Broviak: An adult learner who found her strength as an IU Northwest student

Dental hygiene program gave her a new career, new outlook

Monday Feb 06, 2017

As a young girl, Rachel Broviak spent the majority of her time at the Chesterton church where her mother worked. She had always assumed that she would grow up to be a wife and mother, or perhaps a preacher’s wife.

“Being brought up that way, you think that’s all you can do,” she said.

Broviak attended private high school and college ran by the church as well. And, while she did become a wife and mother, she eventually rejected the notion that there weren’t more options out there for her.

The now 40-year-old Indiana University Northwest alumna took jobs where she could. One of them was as caretaker for an elderly man. The experience was enough to convince her that she could do more. However, it would take an education to get there.

She chuckles when recalling the first day she set foot at IU Northwest.

“I had never applied to college. I didn’t know where to go or what to do,” she said. “I had this little voice in my head saying, ‘you’re not smart enough to do this,’ but for some reason, I still drove over to IU Northwest and walked into the door where the gym is and there was a student there … and I said, ‘I need to register for school.’ I walked from office to office until I got to where I needed to be, and I registered for classes. That was five years ago.”

Broviak emerged from IU Northwest “a much stronger person than I ever thought I could be,” earned her bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene in 2016, and promptly secured a job with the Chicago Public Schools where she operates a mobile dental health clinic. She travels from school to school, providing basic services and oral health education to children, many of whom have never seen a dentist.

“I’m really excited about it,” she said. “It’s something I can walk away from and feel proud of.”

Broviak appreciates the rigor of the dental hygiene program at IU Northwest, which she described as “a cut above.”

“The teachers are tough here,” Broviak said. “They give you no room to be sloppy, and that is a good thing.”

Broviak sees dental hygiene as a unique segment of the health care industry. Her education has taught her that the mouth is a window to the body. Poor oral health can lead to other problems in the body, for instance, and sometimes, health problems can show up first in the mouth, before they are discovered elsewhere. Broviak has learned that this is only part of what makes her chosen profession very important.

“Hygiene is very much about the human side of the medical profession,” she said. “However, even as far as science has gotten us, it is still perceived as a cosmetic thing and it’s really not. Now, through my education, I can share that with other people.”

It seems that the “people” part of the profession is where Broviak truly excels. She recounts one powerful encounter while serving patients at the Veterans Administration recently. She treated a woman, a veteran who had been stricken with a deadly disease at a young age. When the bright-eyed but weakened woman became too tired to continue, Broviak paused and simply sat with her, listening to her story.

“In a tiny way,” Broviak explained, “I felt like she left feeling like someone genuinely cared for her, even if it was just for a few minutes. Even if her life was upside down again the very next day.”

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