Ingrid Helgestad, 22, of Bryant, has been considering becoming a dentist since she was 14. To encourage this goal, Helgestad’s parents, Karl and Tara Helgestad, took her on a mission trip to Guatemala with St. James United Methodist Church when she was 17. She can remember the exact moment when she decided to become a dentist.
“When we went to Guatemala, I asked specifically to assist in the dentistry portion. I assisted Dr. Tina Nichols,” Helgestad said. “Since they don’t have enough time to do bridges, the dentists pull all the teeth and the patients get dentures. I remember standing there holding 20 bloody teeth for one woman who was getting dentures. Even though these people were in pain, they were leaving with so much hope because they were about to get their health back. This is when I solidified that dentistry is what I wanted to do in college.”
Helgestad graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on May 11 with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and is well on her way to becoming a dentist. She already works as a registered dental assistant with Dr. Kathleen Good Ederle in Little Rock and is applying to dental schools this month.
“I like dentistry because I enjoy doing art and being creative, but I also enjoy business. Combining these areas together is what general dentistry is like,” she said. “Working as a dental assistant, I see how happy people get even with just a little cosmetic work to their teeth.”
After graduating from Bryant High School in 2015, Helgestad decided on UA Little Rock after meeting the faculty and being accepted to the Donaghey Scholars program, which covered her tuition, fees, and housing while providing a living stipend, computer, and study abroad assistance.
“UA Little Rock was the perfect medium between a small school environment and a big school environment,” Helgestad said. “Once I got a tour of the facilities, met the professors, and received the Donaghey scholarship, it was a no brainer. I had a great experience with every professor I met.”
While at UA Little Rock, Helgestad found she had a knack for business and entrepreneurship. She was part of a medical startup company, Spiritum Solutions, with UA Little Rock students Noah Asher and Nick Lester. The start-up was selected for the Delta I-Fund Business Accelerator program in the fall 2017 semester and won first place in the undergraduate division of the Arkansas Governor’s Cup in April 2018. Helgestad developed a prototype for a device that reduces unplanned extubations in critical care units.
“Winning the Governor’s Cup is a highlight of my college career, but the thing that sticks out the most to me at UA Little Rock is how close I am to my professors,” Helgestad said. “To me, that is way more important than being in a lecture hall with 400 students. Dr. Brian Berry from the Chemistry Department, Dr. David Tonkyn from the Biology Department, and Dr. Jessica Scott and Dr. Simon Hawkins from the Donaghey Scholars have always been there for me. Having support from my chairs and the Donaghey Scholars program has led to my success.”
As someone who is very grateful for the help she received in her college career, Helgestad has given back to the community by volunteering with Girls of Promise Annual STEM Conference, Girl Scouts, CARE for Animals, Habitat for Humanity, and the 12th Street Health and Wellness Dental Clinic.
“The Girls of Promise STEM Conference was my favorite volunteer experience in college,” she said. “I became a team leader, and I was kind of afraid because I was in charge of 13- and 14-year-old girls. I’ve always been an advocate for girls and women to do what they can do without feeling like they aren’t good enough. I tell these girls that they are worthy and smart and totally capable of doing anything they want to do. All the girls in my group wanted to do computer science or physics and biology, and it was really fun to see their faces light up when they talked about it.”
Helgestad also continued her love of service in the dental area. At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, she and a classmate, Brendan Frazier, started a student chapter of the Natural Teeth Ambassador program at UA Little Rock. Theoutreach program focuses on dental care that educates at-risk elementary school students and families in the Little Rock area. Last year, the ambassadors visited two elementary schools and hope to reach more this year.
“It’s called the Superhero program, and we use lots of different fun activities to get kids excited about being superheroes,” she said. “They combat the bad guys, plaque and acid, with their special tools, toothpaste and floss. At the end of the program, we give them dental supplies donated by Delta Dental.”
At the end of her UA Little Rock education, Helgestad said that combining her love of dentistry, engineering, and business is what made the journey so special.
“I definitely have enjoyed getting to incorporate business and entrepreneurship into my college experience,” she explained. “I was unsure when I first started how I was going to do that. It’s crazy that I combined everything I love into my college experience – dentistry, engineering through the medical device, and business. I’m really proud and excited that this community has supported me in doing that.”