Dental Hygiene, Students

2-0-2-4! Cheerleader and dental hygiene student wraps up UNC career

A woman in a white coat
Brooklyn Rushing is a member of the Dental Hygiene Class of 2024 and a UNC cheerleader.

Brooklyn Rushing, 22, is used to cheering for UNC Chapel Hill. First, as a lifelong fan, then as a member of the school’s cheerleading team, and soon she’ll be cheering on Adams School of Dentistry’s Class of 2024 graduates as she and the rest of her dental hygiene class take the stage at Carmichael Arena on May 9.

That day will be a testament to the hard work and dedication it’s taken for Rushing to get to this moment, something that began with an unfortunate accident during a basketball game when her brother took an elbow to the face, chipping his front teeth.

“He was a completely different person after it happened. He wouldn’t smile and was really embarrassed, but his friend’s dad was a dentist, and he let us come into the office. He showed me what he was doing and let me assist. The part I loved the most was after my brother got his tooth fixed, he was himself again. I saw how your smile affected your personality, and it sparked my interest in dentistry.”

Throughout high school in Raleigh and into her college career at Carolina, Rushing thought she wanted to get her DDS, and pursued internships and other enrichment experiences that would help her get into dental school. Discovering that UNC had a dental hygiene program was a happy surprise.

UNC was a dream school for Rushing. She’s always been a fan!

“Growing up, I’ve always been a UNC fan, and this was my dream school,” she said. “I wanted to come to UNC, and once I got in, I saw UNC had a dental hygiene program, and I realized it was meant to be. This is what I want to do and where I want to be.”

Rushing entered the dental hygiene program still thinking about her DDS, but along the way, she discovered she was in the right place after all.

“This program has really shown me my love for the preventive side of dentistry instead of the restorative,” she said.

Rushing also credits her dental hygiene class and the faculty and staff members that have supported her along the way as she balanced the responsibilities of school and as a proud member of the UNC Cheerleading program. As the child of two former UNC cheerleaders, Rushing had grown up hearing stories about the good times her parents had when they cheered for the university and craved a similar Carolina experience.

Rushing’s parents were both UNC cheerleaders, and Rushing was eager to continue that legacy.

“It’s been a challenge to balance the responsibilities between dental hygiene and cheerleading. I’ve had to improve my organizational skills,” Rushing said. “The thing that helped me is the amazing faculty in the program. I can lean on them, and ask them for help. I’m not good at asking for help, but I’ve seen the benefit of asking for help. They’ve really helped me get through.

Rushing with ASOD’s Jenn Harmon, RDH, MS, a member of the dental hygiene faculty and mentor.

Rushing said she found wonderful support in ASOD’s Jennifer Harmon, RDS, MS, clinical assistant professor.

“She has been there for me every step of the way; answered my phone calls at all times of night. I look up to her, and I’m excited to have this relationship with her. It’s one that will be lifelong.”

During the past two years, Rushing has developed strong bonds with other students in the dental hygiene program, and has even seen her cheer friends and dental school friends become friends in the process. They’ve even volunteered together for ASOD’s DEAH DAY (Directing Efforts and Honoring Deah and Yusor), something Rushing said reinforces that connection.

“One of my favorite memories is volunteering for Habitat for Humanity with some of my best friends in the program,” she said. “We got to build houses and go out in the community. I hadn’t done anything like that before, and I loved that we got to volunteer our time for this cause.”

Rushing hopes to keep that community spirit in mind as she moves into her career, and she wants to focus on improving access to care for underserved populations.

“As a minority I can bring a unique perspective, and I can help people in minority communities,” she said. “It’s one of my goals and plans, post grad. I want to volunteer for access and care to underserved communities.”

Rushing has developed close bonds with her friends in the dental hygiene program.

Rushing plans to stay close to home for work, but until she finds a permanent position in the Raleigh area, she plans to spend time with her family and just enjoy their company, since they’ve stood by her every step of the way during her college career.

Rushing’s aunt even surprised her with a trip to Aruba for her and a cousin, both soon-to-be graduates.

“I haven’t been out of the country before,” Rushing said. “She said ‘you’ve worked so hard. I’m so proud you’re graduating.’”

Before she embarks on that next chapter, Rushing is spending time with friends and participating in her informal book club. “We like to find cute coffee shops and relax and read.” But as she looks back at her time at Carolina and at ASOD, she has some advice for others.

“Stay the course. Focus; ask for help when you need it. Have fun and enjoy it because it goes by so quickly,” she said. “I wish I could do it all over again!”