By Shawn Taylor, The Sanford Herald
SANFORD - Although young, Danielle Bruner is anything but a rookie to the world of dentistry; she worked in a dentist office at 16 and went into private practice full time as a registered dental hygienist four years ago at the age of 22.
What she is new at, however, is teaching. Bruner had already taught for one year as an adjunct faculty member at Central Carolina Community College before coming aboard full-time with the school's dental hygiene program last month.
"Stepping into the classroom, I think it's the most amazing gift because I have wanted my whole life to give a gift to someone else that will be life-changing," Bruner said. "It is the most amazing thing I've ever done."
Saying she works long hours at CCCC, Bruner explained that she instructs second-year dental hygiene students who practice their skills on mannequins, other students and even real patients at the school's free dental clinic. Bruner prepares lessons, gives slideshow lectures and also guides the students in performing the tasks dental hygienists perform daily.
"My favorite part is the hands-on portion," Bruner, a CCCC graduate herself, said. "You can teach someone something but until you put your hands on it and show them -- that's real teaching."
Becoming a professor was the next step in a decade-long journey Bruner began while still in high school. Her father is a dentist and her mom a dental assistant. Bruner said she went to work in the office of the family's practice in Cary when she was 16.
She said she shadowed other healthcare jobs, including a dermatologist and an anesthesiologist. But the people she met and the impressions she made on others while in her parent's office stuck with her.
"So I come from a line of tooth fairies," Bruner joked. "I knew I wanted to be a dental hygienist. ... I'm a people person and I felt I could make a difference even in a small way, even if it's teaching you to floss or holding your hand when you get a tooth pulled. Because people don't usually like going to the dentist."
So while still in high school, Bruner enrolled in online classes at CCCC. After getting her diploma, she was admitted into the community college's dental program and became a licensed practitioner. She afterwards pursued a bachelor degree from West Liberty University in West Virginia. She tutored while in college, she said, which allowed her to discover her passion for teaching.
But just before Bruner was planning to graduate from West Liberty, she became a patient herself. She had brain surgery to relieve a condition known as hydrocephalus -- an accumulation of fluid in the brain.
She made a full recovery, she explained, and has no lingering conditions following her surgery. In fact, she called the surgery the best thing that had ever happened to her, because it taught her she could overcome anything.
"I think that made me a better healthcare professional because people took care of me in my time of need and I want to help other people, even in a small way," Bruner said.
But the surgery disrupted her college completion. She quickly resumed her dream, however, and began working on her own as a dental hygienist in private practice in Raleigh, saying she decided to make her own way. She then began teaching at CCCC as an adjunct professor.
And over the summer, Bruner finished her bachelor degree and was hired full-time at the school. She and her husband Dan'l Bruner are also expecting their first child in January.
"I'm just a rookie," Bruner said. "I'm a rookie mom and a rookie teacher and my diploma is in the mail and I'm a recent graduate. But I think that makes be a better teacher."
Her students are much like her, Bruner explained. She's their age (actually about a year younger than most of them) and many are non-traditional students who have returned to school. Her past experiences and challenges allow her to understand what her students are going through.
As a first-year professor, most of what she does is just trying to survive and make it through the year, she said. She wants to know her students better and understand their unique challenges and find the best teaching strategy to reach each one. Continuing to grow, learn new skills and get outside of her comfort zone will be instrumental in bettering herself as a teacher, Bruner said.
Down the line, Bruner said she hopes to earn a masters degree from N.C. State in adult education and help grow CCCC's dentistry program.
"I just hope I can have an impact on my students -- at least one, at least one in my lifetime," Bruner said. "Without the faculty at Central Carolina I wouldn't be here. ... I hope I can be the light I was given."
Hannah Hunsinger, The Sanford Herald. Danielle Bruner graduated from the CCCC dental hygiene program and has returned as the newest instructor.