When she was in high school, Carolina Giraldo ’95 DMD would drag race boys in her lime-green VW Rabbit after school at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Conn.
“I was a sight to see. You barely could see my head. But I would win. That is the car that inspired me, if you could believe it. I knew if I could win in that thing, I had some kind of talent.”
Dr. Giraldo, who is all of 4-foot-10, is all about perseverance. Born in Bogota, Colombia and raised in Bridgeport, she put herself through college and UConn School of Dentistry.
She opened her own dental practice 21 years ago and now wants to help other students like her. So she recently started a scholarship with an initial gift of $10,000 to the UConn dental school for students from underrepresented groups.
“I want the minority population to grow in the field,” she said. “I want a bigger presence of women, of minorities, to get into the field and make a difference.”
Dr. Giraldo wants to give back to help make the path easier than hers was. She and her older sister, Diana, had to grow up quickly. While their parents each worked three jobs, the sisters practically ran the home front and raised their youngest brother, Randy. Dr. Giraldo remembers cooking dinner for the first time when she was only seven.
“We cooked, we ironed, we cleaned. We pretty much raised ourselves,” she said.
She always knew that if she wanted to have an education past high school, she’d have to do it on her own. So she juggled work and books and put herself through college—then dental school.
Scholarships like the one Dr. Giraldo is giving really make a difference in the lives of dental students, said Sarita Arteaga ’99 DMD, MA, MAGD, the school’s associate dean.
“It’s not just help with tuition,” she said. “I get comments back that it also helps them with the little things so they don’t have to take out another loan. It also helps them to know that someone is investing in them. They say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe somebody was in this position and not only wants to give back to the school, but wants to do the same thing for me’.”
Dr. Giraldo’s dental practice, All Smiles, in Norwalk, is like her, vibrant and welcoming. She designed the industrial-chic medical suite herself and decorated it with original artwork.
She remembers first becoming interested in dentistry as a child when she would watch customers visiting her father’s deli in Yonkers, N.Y.
“I would always look at people’s teeth. I don’t know why,” she said. “Whenever they spoke, I would see how their teeth met and I would try to figure it out—this tooth doesn’t belong there, I’d move it over this way. It was really like art mixed with medicine, so it was perfect. I love the art aspect of it. I still get to move teeth and design a smile just like I did behind the counter.”
These days, she lives in Redding, Conn., with her children, Enzo, 17, and Savannah, 16, her fiancé, Hernan, and his son, Alejandro, 18.
And she still likes driving fast. She even tried her hand at hand at Indy-style racing at the Mario Andretti Racing School in Las Vegas, Nev. recently. Her short stature made it challenging and a bit painful.
“I couldn’t reach the pedal. It was pitiful. They put seven cushions around me,” she said, chuckling.
The g-forces slammed her head up against the side of the car and made it difficult to move. Even so, she pushed through and made it up to 149 miles per hour.
Dr. Giraldo’s scholarship supports the UConn Foundation’s ongoing Transform Lives initiative to raise $150 million for student scholarships. You can support future dentists with a gift to the UConn School of Dentistry or contribute directly to Dr. Giraldo’s scholarship for underserved dental students.