Skip to main content
San Joaquin Valley College Blog

BACK TO THE FUTURE: Visalia Faculty member Cathy Olander teaches Students the Same Values She Learned as a Student

January 9, 2024

“I can relate to students… it wasn’t so long ago I was in their shoes,” says Cathy Olander. In 2004, Cathy was thrilled when she received a phone call from Brenda Serpa advising her of her acceptance into the San Joaquin Valley College Dental Hygiene program in Visalia. Cathy burst into tears; claiming to this day…”This is my lottery, I finally won!” Twenty years later, as an instructor herself at the Visalia campus, Cathy is honored to work with four of the same instructors that mentored her 20 years prior. They remain an inspiration to her and how she teaches new students with the same class, grace and morality.

When did your interest in Dental Hygiene first begin?

I was in my early teens, around 15 years old. I remember having my teeth cleaned by my hygienist, and thinking she was so pleasurable; I loved the way she made me feel so comfortable. As I grew older and became more ambitious, I never forgot about it. You can meet many people from every walk of life, and for whatever reason she was the one I remembered.


Since your career from student to teacher spans the last 20 years, what are the changes in Dental Hygiene that you have observed since you were a student?

Digital x-rays have been a great improvement in our field. With digital vs traditional films, the exposure of radiation is up to 80% less for both the clinician and patient. When COVID hit in 2020, the dental industry (like most health care), was challenged.

Our duties and how we delivered treatment would be affected. We incorporated COVID protocols to keep staff and patients safe according to guidelines implemented by the CDC, and remarkably, we still use those protocols in clinic today. All Personal Poritectuve Equiptment are worn to for safety purposes… masks, gowns, gloves, we’re very conscience about keeping everything disinfected. It’s a group effort and team work is a big deal in our school!

When I was a student, our goal was to find a patient that had certain criteria for our clinical state board exam.  Currently, our state board is with a typodont [a model of the mouth for educational purposes], so no interaction with human saliva needs to take place.  (I’m not sure how I feel about that.)  We don’t have externships at Visalia. Our students have a full working clinic with 24 patient-ready chairs.  In clinic, our students are guided and accompanied under protocols by the state of California.  We have an amazing staff, they are professional, confident and proficient in their skills.


What do you look for in a prospective student?

I have never been through the interview process as an instructor, but I would say those who are interviewing are doing a wonderful job.  We have some very talented, accomplished and funny students.  What’s important to me…personality. I like to see their soul through their eyes; I appreciate honesty in a classy way, and above all if they can adapt with constructive criticism. I have never met a student that breezed through Dental Hygiene school, but I do believe your character shines through when pressure pursues you.  You can truly see someone’s character through their hardest moments.  It will test you to your limit and you will find out who you are. If they walk in with a chip on their shoulder or think it’s going to be easy, it’s not.


As someone who has both studied and taught at Visalia campus, can you tell us from those two perspectives what you have learned about SJVC as a place to study vs. teach?

I have empathy, I understand what it’s like, I had the same fears they do. I love to relate to students because I was a student. I’ve always kept this little lesson in mind: when new students go out in the real world to work, people don’t know that they’re new. So, I give small tidbits of information that help them get more comfortable for the first time. And in just a week or two, they put it all together. It’s fascinating to watch them.

There are four instructors I admire who have been there since I was a student that I’d like to recognize: Brenda Serpa, Karen Koch, Susan Pringle, and Lygia Jolley. They have provided the quality of education and dedication to students SJVC is known for. SJVC has always done a good job simply teaching students how to be better people and clinicians. They continue to mentor me to this day.


And having just started your teaching career this year, you are now a part of that great team. Congratulations!

Thank you kindly, I am truly blessed….my lottery keeps giving!

Request Information

All fields using an asterik (*) are required.

Step 1 of 2

* Required Field