June 1, 2017

Mesa’s Dental Program Director Margaret Fickess Earns Lucy Hobbs Project Innovator Award

By Lauren J. Mapp

San Diego Mesa College’s Dental Assisting Program Director Margaret Fickess, RDA, CDA, MEd, recently received the Lucy Hobbs Innovator Award – one of six accolades given during the Lucy Hobbs Project 5th Annual Celebration on April 27 and 28 in Philadelphia.

San Diego Mesa College’s Dental Assisting Program Director Margaret Fickess, RDA, CDA, MEd, recently received the Lucy Hobbs Innovator Award – one of six accolades given during the Lucy Hobbs Project 5th Annual Celebration on April 27 and 28 in Philadelphia.


Chosen from more than 100 nominations, Fickess shows the “true qualities of what it means to be an innovator within the dental industry by supporting, educating and encouraging others,” said Lucy Hobbs Project Vice President of Business Innovation Julie Radzyminski in a letter.


Created as a way to empower and honor women working in the field of dentistry, the awards from the Lucy Hobbs Project have been given annually for the past five years in honor of Lucy Hobbs, who is recognized as the first female dentist and started her own dental practice in the 1860s. Nominated for her work in designing the Allied Health Building’s 11-chair dental clinic, which opened in 2009, Fickess said that she wanted to design updated facilities to help improve the experience for dental assisting students at Mesa.


“When the Allied Health building was being built, I had a vision of the opportunity for our students to be able to learn better so they’re more successful in their careers,” Fickess said. “The San Diego Community College District listened to us - as program directors - on how we wanted the Allied Health building to be designed.”


Classrooms and labs in the new building are outfitted with modern, “smart” technology such as digital x-ray equipment, monitors, Computer-Aided Design and Computer-Aided Manufacturing dental systems and software, intra-oral cameras and docking cameras that help to show students how to manipulate dental materials.


“Now everybody can see,” Fickess said. “In our old building, students had to gather around the instructor when they were demonstrating anything, and some people were hidden and just couldn’t really see in the mouth as well. Now, we can zoom in exactly where we are working and what we are demonstrating.”


Having access to the new technology has allowed students to engage in more hands-on learning and helped in the success rate of students throughout the one-year program – as seen in the unprecedented 100 percent retention/graduation rate of 32 students during the first year in the new building, Fickess said.


Health Sciences and Public Service Dean Tina L. Recalde, DPT, MS, ATC, CSCS, said that another reason why Fickess was nominated for this award is because she is dedicated to the success of her students at Mesa College.


“Her students excel when they go into clinical practice because of the strength of her leadership,” Recalde said. “She is so humble – she doesn’t do things because she wants to receive credit, she really does things because she has a good heart and wants the best for her students and the community. I think that just by the nature of being such a good person that she is being honored in this manner.”


Recalde also said that Fickess’ community service is another key aspect that helped her to earn this award. Fickess volunteers through CDA Cares, Children’s Dental Health Clinic, Braille Institute for the Blind and through her church as the head deaconess.


Part of what Fickess believes makes Mesa College’s dental assisting program standout in the field is that it teaches the skills that will be needed throughout the career.


“We’re totally different than the private schools because we teach to the career, where the private schools teach to the state board exams,” she said. “For instance, our students make temporary crowns, and for the state boards they have to do tooth number eight (the upper, right incisor), so private schools only teach number eight. We don’t, because a patient has more than one tooth in their mouth, they have 32 teeth and anyone of those can end up with a crown, and our students need to learn how to make a temporary crown for molars, premolars, canines and central incisors.”


An alumna herself, Fickess graduated from the dental assisting program at Mesa in 1968 before starting her career working for a dentist as a chairside assistant. When a part-time teaching position opened up in 1979, Fickess returned to Mesa to join the faculty, later becoming the director for the program.


Her dedication to the field of dental assisting is not only seen as a professor and working hands-on in her career, but Fickess has also been involved with the San Diego Dental Assistants Society, California Dental Assistants Association, California Association for Dental Assisting Teachers and American Dental Assistants Association for the past 50 years.


Mesa College’s Dental Assisting Program is accredited by the Dental Board of California and the Commission of Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association. The program helps to prepare students for the Registered Dental Assistant and Certified Dental Assistant examinations upon successful completion of the program.


For more information about the Dental Assisting Program at Mesa, visit, or contact Margaret Fickess at or (619) 388-2697. For information about enrollment, contact Special Admissions Clerk Dulce Carolina Lopez at or (619) 388-2684.

Tags: Dental Assisting, Margaret Fickess, Allied Health

Additional Information


Jennifer Nichols Kearns
Director of Communications
(619) 388-2759

Margaret Fickess
Program Director - Dental Assisting
(619) 388-2697