By Melanie Brown, UCF Career Services
ORLANDO, Fla. (Aug. 30, 2016) – Dr. Sophia Parpia, ’91, has been practicing dentistry since 1995 and has always aspired to help others enter the field, especially students at her alma mater.
She and her husband, Amman Parpia, opened a local dental practice in 1999 in Altamonte Springs. Since then, she has helped high school and college students take a hands-on approach to exploring the field of dentistry.
“I’m willing to help whenever anyone asks,” Parpia said.
She gives students an opportunity to visit her practice, get accustomed to various dental instruments, interact with patients and observe different procedures.
Recently, the UCF Pre-Dental Student Association (PDSA) participated in two all-day workshops with Parpia that went beyond observation. Students had the chance to prepare extracted teeth for composite restoration (fillings) and take impression molds on their peers.
“You never know if this is what you want to do until you try it. You can end up in dental school and realize that you don’t like working in someone’s mouth,” explained Parpia, who wasn’t as fortunate to gain real-world experience prior to entering dental school.
Parpia is a first-generation dentist and was one of the only students in her graduating class to not come from a family of dentists.
“I felt I was at a disadvantage. I didn’t have a lot of the hands-on practice that many of my peers entered school with,” Parpia said. “I want to help students know what to expect before they get to school.”
The Parpias have two daughters that attend UCF – Gabriela, a biomedical sciences sophomore, and Aleena, a freshman studying health sciences-pre clinical.
Gabriela is a member of the Burnett Honors College and was a National Merit Scholarship finalist coming out of Seminole High School. She intends to follow in her mother’s footsteps and now works part-time as a dental assistant at her parents practice.
“I feel very fortunate to get to do this. It’s great experience. I feel more on my feet and will be ready for dental school [when the time comes],” Gabriela said.
In September 2015, the Parpias learned of the UCF Parent and Family Philanthropy Council while touring the Burnett Honors College. The council is in its inaugural year at UCF, and they felt compelled to join.
The primary mission of the Parents Council is to engage parents and family members who lend their talents and provide support for vital student programs. Through engagement with the council, Dr. Parpia connected to the PDSA and other students at UCF.
“This is so important to me, and I’m so proud to help so many students,” said Parpia, who has now helped a few alumni do more than just gain experience prior to dental school.
Andreina Alacrón, ’10, shadowed Parpia while studying at UCF and went on to graduate from the University of Colorado’s School of Dental Medicine in May.
Alacrón first came to Parpia’s practice to obtain observation hours and was soon hired as a dental assistant due to “good work-ethic and enthusiasm about dentistry.” Parpia helped her through her application process, and now that Alacron has graduated from dental school, she will return on Aug. 18 as the practice’s newest practitioner.
Another UCF alumna, Aamna Zaidi, ’16, pursued a similar path in working with Parpia, who wants to hire Zaidi once she is finished with school. Parpia aspires to help more women get into dentistry.
Andrew Bertot, a Burnett Honors College student and the vice president of the PDSA, is thankful to be able to shadow professionals in his field.
“It’s a great opportunity when a dentist opens up their office and lets us figure out if this is what we want to do,” Bertot said.
A number of PDSA students will be first-generation dentists, just like Parpia.
“What Dr. Parpia is doing to help our students advance in their field is extraordinary,” said Neal Robinson, assistant director of leadership annual giving at UCF Alumni. “Career Services invites alumni, parents and friends of the university to host students for short-term job shadowing experiences through the department’s job shadowing program.”
The UCF Externship Program is a 1-5 day job shadow program open to all UCF students. Twenty-four percent of students who completed the 2015 Winter Externship program received a job offer.