1996 Dental Assistant graduate is award-winning thriller novelist
Staci Andrea, 47, graduated from the Dental Assistant program at Dakota County Technical College (DCTC) in 1996, the year regular gas was $1.23 a gallon, Prince Charles and Princess Diana got divorced, and the Hubble Space Telescope turned in the first surface photos of Pluto, the only planet, dwarf or otherwise, named by an 11-year-old girl.
With her new diploma and right out of college, Staci started working as a certified dental assistant at Metro Dental (previously Park Dental) in Eagan, Minnesota. That first job prompted a career in the dental industry that would span two decades.
“I worked at Metro until 2011,” Staci said. “When my daughters were younger, I operated a daycare out of my home while also working part-time as a dental assistant at Metro, keeping my certifications and continuing education up to date.”
Staci served as a dental assistant in Minnesota at Woodridge Dental in Jordan and James F. Lesch, DDS, PA, in Lakeville.
“I always say that if my husband hadn’t gotten a job offer out of town, I would still be working for Dr. Lesch,” Staci said. “I LOVED that office, his family, and his outlook on dentistry. I got the chance to work in the front office there and then helped train in the new front office manager while still working as a dental assistant. I learned a lot of things about the front office I never knew.”
Three words that describe you as a dental assistant:
DEVOTED. HONEST. INTRIGUED.
In 2011, Staci and her family moved to Clear Lake, Iowa. She continued her career as a dental assistant at Scribbins Family Dentistry and then Clear Lake Pediatric Dentistry. At the latter office, she implemented a student outreach program.
“The first year I was there, I spoke with more than 3,000 students in the local communities, which brought in a lot of patients,” she recalled, noting that she had other responsibilities at the office. “I was the OSHA safety manager, the radiation safety officer, and HIPPA compliance officer. I was in charge of supply ordering and tracking—and I also covered social media marketing and coordinated health and school fair dental education tables.”
Staci eventually decided to return to college, enrolling at North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) in Mason City, Iowa. She made the most of her time at NIACC: she joined Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), got selected as a 2019 finalist in the college’s Extreme Makeover–College Edition Contest, and was named to the 2019–2020 All-NIACC Academic Team.
Staci earned her Insurance and Financial Management A.A.S. and Human Services certificate from NIACC in 2020 with the goal to obtain her current position as the patient care and nursing support assistant at CG Public Health in Mason City.
“Although my position is housed within the Home Care Nursing department, I am cross-trained to run the front desk,” she said, adding that she has joined her department’s Social Committee, Strategic Planning Board, and Integrated Management Team. “My main role is securing, tracking, and processing insurance authorizations for our home care clients with Medicaid and VA insurance coverage. I am a point of reference for our nurses in the field when they need further information from the office.”
Thriller novelist career…
While attending NIACC, Staci took a few writing courses. Her professors took the time to encourage her to continue writing and go after what she really wanted to do with her life—become a successful, published novelist.
Staci’s first novel, Lake Laps, will be released by Pegasus Publishers in December of this year. Lake Laps is a 2022 Killer Nashville Claymore Award Finalist in the Suspense Category and 2023 Literary Titan Silver Award Winner. The novel also made the 2023 Hawthorne Award Shortlist and 2023 Page Turner Award Longlist for Screenplay Adaptation Needed.
Her second novel, Fraidy Hole, will be released by Black Rose Writing and Tantor Media (audio) in November of this year. Fraidy Hole is a 2023 Literary Titan Gold Award Winner and earned Honorable Mention at the 2023 Hollywood Book Festival.
Staci has written two other thriller/suspense novels slated for publication. Beneath Her Lies (previously named Buried Aces) won the 2023 Literary Titan Gold Award and will be released by Kingsley Publishers in spring 2024. Thrive: Ghosts in the Glades is a 2023 Killer Nashville Claymore Award Finalist for Best Southern Gothic and made the 2023 Page Turner Award Longlist for Screenplay Adaptation Needed. The novel’s release date hasn’t been established yet.
In May 2023, Staci reached out to DCTC Facebook with a heartfelt message: “I guess I just wanted to say thank you. Without the support of your professors and the guidance that I required to even determine a career path early on, I would have never even dreamt of tackling one of my greatest dreams. It is because it started with you, I can now proudly say that I am a suspense author.
“Who knows where this will lead? My daughter is a special education teacher, and I see the shortage in teachers that is happening in this country. Please know that you are seen, you are heard, and you are desperately needed.
“I almost didn’t go to college back then. It took a dedicated office staff putting up with a million questions from a 17-year-old kid whose parents never went to college and the loving and calm demeanor of my professors that took the time to show me the way to get me onto a stable career path and build my confidence. To you all, I humbly say thank you.”
Learn more about Staci and her novels by visiting her social sites:
More about Staci…
Originally from Eagan, Minnesota, Staci graduated from Eagan High School, Class of 1995. She and her husband, Dustin, have been married 26 years. Dustin graduated from Brainerd/Staples Technical College (today Central Lakes College) with an associate degree in Heavy Equipment Operation. He works for the city of Clear Lake. Staci and Dustin have two daughters, Skylar, 23, and Paige, 21.
“Skylar is a special education teacher for a middle school,” Staci said. “She’s currently working her way through her masters while pregnant with my first grandchild—a BOY!!! I’m so excited about that, I can’t stand it! Skylar’s husband, Zach, works for the local county. Paige works for a local medical facility here in town while still in college. She has her eye on the prize of earning a Master of Hospital Management with her true calling under the umbrella of geriatric care.”
The family has one dog and one cat. “We have an elderly Pomeranian named Stella, 13, who rules the house,” Staci reported, “and a black rescue cat named Tapanga, 6, whose brothers, Corey and Shawn, were with her at the shelter—just like Boy Meets World. Tapanga lets Stella walk all over her.”
In her free time, Staci loves acquiring religious collectables—the older and with a haunted story attached, the better! “I LOVE sitting all day at estate sales and searching for my next creepy find,” she said.
Staci likes refinishing antique furniture, reading autobiographies, horror/suspense novels, and stories of war. She also enjoys boating and quilting. Staci and her family reside in Clear Lake.
Staci Andrea life gallery
One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:
Staci Andrea • Q & A
What inspired you to pursue dental assistant as your career focus?
Honestly, I had always been interested in healthcare, but at the age of 17 when I graduated high school, I was looking for a program that paid well, offered a career that would be there long term, and didn’t require me to spend years in school.
The Dental Assistant program had just started at the college, I believe, the year before me, so I was fortunate that there wasn’t a wait list at that time. I also loved the idea that the classes were small, and the hands-on component was such a big section of the schooling, as I knew I was a better student when I was able to actually experience something instead of just reading about it.
What did you like best about the Dental Assistant program at DCTC?
Hands down, the instructors! The school managed to keep a small town feel about it, and the instructors truly wanted to see you thrive. I was also impressed with the high tech and most current technology that the school implemented within their lessons.
The instructors actually worked in the field, which was a huge bonus because they were able to keep current on the trends within dental assisting and teach us about new technology that was coming down the line.
What did you find most rewarding about your career as a dental assistant?
I was torn as to how to answer this because I loved multiple things. First and foremost, I enjoyed helping people, especially the patients that were either scared to come in and see us in the office, or ones who needed service but had trouble paying for them. I liked looking for ways out of the box to get them what they needed, as well as really getting to know them.
The other aspect of dental assisting that I didn’t expect, was the sense of community that was so easily established. When I worked for Dr. Lesch, Woodridge Dental, and Metro Dental, I would be scheduled to go into local schools to promote good oral hygiene, speaking to more than 3,500 students a season, and returning year after year.
When I moved to Iowa, I continued that program with the local offices here, which strengthened my tether within the community, helping me to no longer feel like an outsider. Wherever I lived and wherever I worked, by being part of a caring dental office, I felt like I belonged and had extended family.
Three words that describe you as a novelist:
PASSIONATE. INQUISITIVE. DRIVEN.
What do you love most about writing novels?
Writing was something that I had always loved to do, and I had dreamt about writing novels as a kid. Then life happened. I began a career, got married, and had kids. The writing took a backseat to life for a while. Oddly enough, life is what forced me right back into it again.
A couple of years ago, I had begun to really struggle in my own life. The kids were grown and were leaving the house, I had suffered some major losses and wasn’t sure what my place was in the world anymore. Instinctively, I began to journal, something that I hadn’t done since I was a kid. It felt good to get all of that emotion out, so good in fact, that the journalling began to spin itself into stories.
Writing, for me, is therapeutic. It also puts me back out into the community, speaking at events and doing meet and greets, which is something that I always think is fun to do!
Who is your most favorite character and why?
My most favorite character that I have written about so far, is Max, from my novel, Lake Laps, coming out in December. Max is a mother at the end of her rope, trying desperately to hold on to her troubled daughter. She’s relatable and raw.
I also hold a deep connection with one of the main characters in my book, Fraidy Hole, Bobo, a grandfather who helped raise an out-of-control wild child. A lot of the characteristics from Bobo grew from my own grandfathers, their work ethic and mannerisms.
I think I get attached to all of my characters, really, after spending so much time creating them and walking around in their minds for such a long time.
As for favorite characters from other people’s books, it would have to be, hands down, Ernie Pyle in his own book, the classic, Here is Your War. He was an American journalist during World War Two and wrote articles from the front lines, detailing the soldiers experience. He approached his stories with such grace yet didn’t sugar-coat the experience. It will always be one of my favorite books of all time, a true example of how an author’s voice should reflect on his or her readers.
What advice would you give writers seeking to become successful, published novelists?
You will get told no. Over and over, you will be turned down, turned away, and shut out. You will be told your writing isn’t to an agent’s liking, is not the “in” thing to publish right now or that it just doesn’t fit the mold.
You have to have a backbone and keep forging forward. You have to be true to who you are as a writer and hang on to the belief that you are enough. Even Stephen King was told no by publishers, 80 times, I believe, when he was trying to get one of his first horror novels published, Carrie. Authors wear rejection as a badge, a type of initiation into the cool kid’s club. Just keep writing.
What person has influenced your life the most and why?
Honestly, I think it’s a combination of both of my daughters. I like to say that I hadn’t experienced life enough when I was younger to truly be a good writer—my heart hadn’t been broken enough, my soul hadn’t been shaken up enough yet. I had to love immensely, struggle with letting go, and learn to live all over again to truly find my voice.
My husband and I have raised two of the most headstrong daughters who blindly go through life following their hearts, and I think I had to be their mom, reside in their glory, wallow in their pain and suffering, and successfully make it out the other side with them in order to become a seasoned writer.
The truth is, my first novel, Lake Laps, was born out of the need to tell our story, the story of many families, when someone enters your lives and shakes things up. I found that, in commiserating with friends and neighbors over bonfires, that all families struggle, and it has become my driving force when I write to pull back the curtains on the families who seem too perfect, the ones that we all inaccurately aspire to be. Because the truth is, we are all hiding something.
If you could make one thing happen on Earth right now, what would it be?
Tough question! I had so many answers to this one! Worldwide, I would do something great like eradicate disease or put an end to global warming. Truthfully though, on a more selfish level, the best thing that I could hope for is that my daughters (all people, actually) always know their worth in this world, something that I think can be a real struggle.
Staci Andrea • 12 Answers
- Favorite sport or physical activity: Running! I haven’t gone longer than 22 miles yet, but I hope to get back to training again. My dream would be to take part in the Great Wall Marathon someday, an adventure marathon where you don’t worry about placing, just aim to finish, part of the “run” taking place on the great wall itself!
- Place you would most like to visit: South Africa, or London, since I have publishers in both areas. I think South Africa would be an amazing experience for sure!
- Most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Opened the first email from a publisher that wasn’t a “No”
- Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Move all of my family out of Iowa and to Florida, because I have had enough of these winters, and I want to spend the rest of the time we have together just having fun on a beach somewhere 2) Open scholarship funds for women’s sports, something that was lacking in the town that my daughters grew up in. Also, scholarships for kids who are hardworking students, but just may not get the best grades 3) Start my own publishing company and search for overlooked new talent
- Best book or movie you’ve read or seen lately: Book: Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis; Movie: Where the Crawdads Sing or Top Gun: Maverick
- Time period (past or future) you would explore if you could time travel: I honestly don’t want to see where this world will be too far into the future, so I would like to go back a little and see what it would have been like to be a teen in the 50s, when rock was becoming a thing and they still lived in the era where the moms were home all day and the dads worked, and the family of four were able to buy homes and survive on that one salary. It’s such an unfathomable reality.
- One thing you most want to accomplish in your life: Aside from winning the Nobel Prize for Literature or the Pulitzer? Ha! This may seem grim, but I think about it a lot since losing my grandparents. I just want my family to be able to say that I was the best mom and grandma and gave them the best childhood. I think to be remembered in that sense is the greatest accomplishment.
- Your national bird if you were your own country: The blue jay. Although they are thought of as sweet by nature, they are fiercely protective and can even mimic other larger birds to keep predators away. They also dominate food supplies, so it sounds good to me!
- Dream occupation: I always wanted to be a lawyer growing up, because I love a good debate, but as I have grown older, I think my true calling would have been a funeral director. Hear me out, though, don’t think I’m nuts here! They are the calm guiding light when families are at the toughest point in their lives. To be able to guide families through that with grace would be such an honor.
- Person you would most like to meet: Jason Momoa. Or Drew Barrymore. Wait, Johnny Depp!
- Skill you would most like to learn and master: Writing for the fantasy genre! Those authors are pure geniuses who are able to create entire realms out of nowhere! My mind doesn’t work that way. I write in reality. I think it would be awesome to be able to create like that—hats off to the fantasy authors!
- Most important issue or problem facing humankind: Acceptance. The world has become so divided and unaccepting of each other that it will be mankind’s greatest downfall.
Learn more about the Dental Assistant program at DCTC by contacting:
More about the Dental Assistant program…
This program prepares students for employment in dentistry as a Certified Dental Assistant and a Licensed Dental Assistant. Students are trained to expose and process dental x-ray films, master a variety of chairside skills and expanded functions delegated by the Minnesota State Board of Dentistry. Students also study ways to control and prevent dental disease. Excellent communication skills are required for patient education.
Employment in this field typically requires successful completion of the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) and Licensed Dental Assistant (LDA) licensing exams.
The Dental Assistant program proudly partners with Park Dental.
Set up dental equipment, prepare patients, and keep records.
Above the statewide median of $24.25/hour
Seven-county Twin Cities metro
In Minnesota, there are 5,890 workers employed in this medium-size career, which is currently in high demand and seeing high growth compared to other careers; growth rate in the U.S. is 11.2 percent. There will be a need for about 16,657 new Dental Assistants to meet market demand between 2020–2030 This includes the demand due to replacement (workers leaving the occupation or retiring) as well as growth.
Typical Work Tasks
People working in this career often complete the following tasks:
- Administer basic health care or medical treatments.
- Assist practitioners to perform medical procedures.
- Fit patients for assistive devices.
- Interview patients to gather medical information.
- Explain technical medical information to patients.
- Maintain medical records.
- Record vital statistics or other health information.
- Make patient-assistive devices or device models.
- Prepare medical instruments or equipment for use.
- Clean medical equipment.
Typical working conditions
- Wearing common protective or safety equipment such as safety shoes, glasses, gloves, hearing protection, hard hats, or life jackets.
- Close physical proximity with other people.
- Frequent contact with others.
- Exposure to disease or infections.
- Working with a group or team.
- Using your hands to handle, control, or feel objects, tools, or controls.
- The importance of being accurate or exact.
- Exposure to contaminants (like gases or odors).
- Frequent decision-making.
- Responsibility for others’ health and safety.
— Minnesota State CAREERwise Education (October 3, 2023)