Two Sisters Take Dental Assistant Career Path

Sisters Take on Dental

DCTC program graduating 19th class of students in 2013

When Shelbea Brandt, 21, graduated from Lakeville North High School in 2010, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life. Her sister, Ashlea Marzella, had enrolled in the Dental Assistant program at Dakota County Technical College right out of Farmington High School in 2005. Ashlea earned her Dental Assistant diploma in 2007 as a member of the 13th class of students to graduate from the program.

Shelbea Brandt, Ashlea Marzella and Sailor Marzella

Shelbea Brandt, Ashlea Marzella and Sailor Marzella

“I work as a server at Bakers Square while going to college,” said Shelbea, who will be earning her Dental Assistant diploma this spring as a member of the 19th class of graduates. “My sister worked at Bakers Square, too. When I saw how Ashlea got a job as a dental assistant right out of college, I knew DCTC was for me. I didn’t want to mess around. I guess I’m following in my big sister’s footsteps.”

Ashlea excelled at her dental assistant externships, a major stepping stone to success, and discovered she was ideally suited for dental assisting. She landed a job at Metro Dental Care in Richfield, Minn., and began working in her chosen field.

“My job as a dental assistant involved basic patient care and assisting dentists during procedures,” Ashlea said. “You need to be friendly and engaging because one of your duties is helping patients calm down. Part of my job also involved emergency dental care. A dental office is a very fast-paced environment.

When I saw how Ashlea got a job as a dental assistant right out of college, I knew DCTC was for me. I didn’t want to mess around. I guess I’m following in my big sister’s footsteps.” — Shelbea Brandt

Ashlea Marzella and Presly Marzella

Ashlea Marzella and Presly Marzella

While working at Metro Dental, Ashlea met Jim Marzella, DDS, one of several dentists with busy practices at the Richfield office. Ashlea hardly said a word to Dr. Marzella until she became his personal dental assistant, handling everything from X-rays to fluoride treatments to teeth cleanings.

“Dentists have personal styles that vary tremendously,” Ashlea said. “Some can be brusque and demanding. Others are quite meticulous. As a dental assistant you have to adapt and match your dentist’s style. Luckily, Dr. Marzella was very laid back. He was super-easy to work for.”

Ashlea Marzella

Ashlea Marzella

As it turned out, Ashlea and her dentist were made for each other. After a long courtship, they got married. Today, Ashlea is a stay-at-home mom raising two daughters, Presly, 2, and Sailor, 1, with another child on the way. Residing in Minneapolis, the family also has three dogs, a male lab named Dakota, 10, a male Yorkiepoo named Hudson, 4, and a female cockapoo named Cricket, 2.

“I call my husband ‘James,'” Ashlea said. “I’m the only one I know who does.” Ashlea added that she and her husband love taking their children camping, or biking on trails and around lakes.

A strong and bright tradition
Diana Sullivan

Diana Sullivan

Diana Sullivan and Jaime Pieper are Dental Assistant faculty at the college. Sullivan has a master’s degree in communications/management from Cardinal Stritch University; Pieper has her master’s in education from Walden University. As lifelong learners, both Sullivan and Pieper have hands-on experience in the dental industry. Sullivan served 20 years as a registered certified dental assistant and works part-time in an orthodontic specialty practice in Eden Prairie, Minn. Pieper serves as a practicing dental hygienist during the summer.“Jaime and I were here when our program started in 1994,” Sullivan said. “We have built a great tradition of preparing our students for prosperous careers in the dental field. Our graduates have exceptional foundational skills and knowledge. They are more than ready for work as entry-level dental assistants.”
Jaime Pieper

Jaime Pieper


Sullivan reported that her program emphasizes all-around skill improvement dedicated to launching successful careers. “You have to be sharp, adaptable and enthusiastic to impress employers in a dental office,” she said. “Dentists are professionals and they want their dental assistants to be valued members of a highly professional team. That means developing communication skills and understanding the important of attendance and punctuality. Our program instills those values in our students through practical, real-world training and service-learning experiences.”

On the cusp of graduation (pun intended), Shelbea Brandt is gearing up for two externships this summer, one at Metro Dental in Richfield and one at Metro Dental in Eden Prairie. “Externships are where you have to show what you know,” Shelbea said. “I understand that my externships will be difficult, but Diana and Jaime prepare us for anything and everything we might encounter working in a dental office. We cover a lot of material on what it’s like working for various dentists. Our chair-side training is extensive.”

Instructor Jaime Pieper looks forward to teaching students with a zeal for dental assisting and the determination required to find a place in the world of dentistry. “I think the best thing I remember about Ashlea and am experiencing with Shelbea currently is their enthusiasm to learn,” Pieper said. “Shelbea is always excited about her coursework. For instance, last week we demonstrated sealant placement. After she completed her sealants, Shelbea got up from the chair and said, ‘That was awesome!'”

Shelbea BrandtShelbea BrandtShelbea BrandtShelbea Brandt

 Ashlea Marzella

Ashlea Marzella

12 Questions
  1. What brought you to DCTC?
    DentistryI found the Dental Assistant program through the DCTC Catalog. I wanted a career that paid well. I also wanted to start working quickly. My goal was to live on my own right out of high school.
  2. What skill set or knack makes you good at your job?
    I was good at my job as a dental assistant because I am personable and pick things up quickly. I like to get the job done. You can’t be a slacker and be a dental assistant.
  3. What’s the hardest part of your job?
    As a dental assistant, you often have to work with several different dentists. Every dentist has their own technique and you have to know exactly how each of your dentists handles a certain procedure. You can have a hundred different materials for even the simplest procedure. You need to have the right stuff for the right dentist. You have to be prepared. Your job is to assist the dentist and make sure everything goes like clockwork.
  4. Beer and wind-making kitWhat is your favorite pastime or hobby?
    My husband and I enjoy brewing our own beer and wine. I also love listening to music. The Current is the station I listen to the most.
  5. What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
    My two daughters, Presly and Sailor. (Note: At the time of the interview, Ashlea was eight months pregnant.)
  6. Seven Pools of Oheo | Maui, HawaiiWhat is the one thing you have not done that you would really like to do?
    I would love to travel the world. Hawaii and Mexico would be good places to start.
  7. Where in the world would you go if you could go anywhere?
    Asked and answered!
  8. What is your favorite season of the year?
    Summer. I love taking my kids to parks and beaches.
  9. If you could learn to do anything, what would you learn to do?
    I would learn to speak Spanish.
  10. If you had to change your first name, what name would you pick?
    Bridgette
  11. ToucanIf you could be any kind of animal for a day or even a year, what kind of animal would you be?
    Toucan
  12. What’s the best gift you’ve ever given?
    I gave my dad a kit for making beer and wine for his birthday. He loved it. (Note: Shelbea and Ashlea’s dad volunteered to come to the DCTC campus serve as a patient for both his daughters while they were studying in the Dental Assistant program.)
Shelbea Brandt

Shelbea Brandt

 12 Questions
  1. Hot fudge brownie à la modeWhat brought you to DCTC?
    I watched how well my sister Ashlea did at DCTC and how quickly she found a great-paying job. My goal was to finish school fast and get to work.
  2. What skill set or knack makes you good at your job?
    Working at Bakers Square has showed me that I’m a people person. The time just flies by when I’m serving because I’m having fun. Now that I’ve been in the Dental Assistant program for a while, I know how important having great people skills is in the dental field.
  3. What’s the hardest part of your job?
    I’ve learned from Ashlea that working with many different dentists can be challenging. They all have their own way of doing things.
  4. What is your favorite pastime or hobby?
    I love snowboarding. I usually go to Afton Alps and sometimes Welch.
  5. Lunar LandingWhat is your greatest accomplishment to date?
    I feel really good about making the leap to college.
  6. What is the one thing you have not done that you would really like to do?
    I would love to skydive solo. I’ve tandem jumped twice in Arizona and I loved it. The scenery was incredible.
  7. Where in the world would you go if you could go anywhere?
    I would travel to outer space. My first stop would be the Moon.
  8. Deep-sea DiverWhat is your favorite season of the year?
    Winter. I like winter sports.
  9. If you could learn to do anything, what would you learn to do?
    I would become a deep-sea diver.
  10. If you had to change your first name, what name would you pick?
    That’s a good question. I guess I would combine Diana and Jaime. What would that be? Daime or maybe Jiana.
  11. Tyrannosaurus rexIf you could be any kind of animal for a day or even a year, what kind of animal would you be?
    No question: T rex.
  12. What’s the best gift you’ve ever given?
    My sister Brooke (20) was dying to go see The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. I got her tickets and I couldn’t believe how excited she was. (Note: Shelbea and Ashlea also have two brothers, David, 23, and William, 17.)
Career news from ISEEK, Minnesota’s career, education and job resource:

Dental assistant career outlook

Dental AssistantFrom 2010 to 2020, employment for dental assistants in Minnesota is projected to increase 19 percent; for the U.S. the increase is slated at nearly 31 percent.

“Population growth and the increasing trend for people to keep their natural teeth will fuel the demand for dental services. Demand will also increase due to a higher emphasis placed on dental care in younger generations. Older dentists, who are less likely to employ assistants, will be replaced by recent graduates, who are more likely to hire them. In addition, as dentists’ workloads increase, they are expected to hire more assistants to perform routine tasks.

Dental Assistant“Job prospects for dental assistants should be good. Besides growth in the occupation, many more job openings will arise from the need to replace dental assistants who leave the field. Many of these openings will be for entry-level jobs that offer on-the-job training.”

Dental assistant wages

Dental assistants in the seven-county Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area earn on average nearly $22 an hour. Top earners make nearly $28 an hour.

 For more information about the Dental Assistant program at DCTC, contact:

2 Comments

  • Such an inspiring story. My dentist has similar story to yours. Her dad and sister were also dentist. They all work in the same clinic and they were like business partners.

  • Dentist assistant is the career not many people choose, but the inspiring tale of these two sisters will make sure that more people choose the path of dental assistant and find the job satiable and not at all bad. This post made me realise the significance an dental assistant. Instead of family dentist doral , this profession should be considered.

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