Like father, like daughter

SPEP features family connection
July 31st, 2023

Dr. Bobby Jivnani instructs his daughter, Dheeya, in the lab.

The halls of Texas A&M School of Dentistry buzz with activity every summer as high school and college students arrive on campus for the Summer Pre-Dental Enrichment Programs (SPEP). For two students, this year’s program was especially exciting as they shared the experience with their fathers.

Dheeya Jivnani, a senior at Plano East Senior High, and Victoria Caballeros, a senior at Wakeland High School in Frisco, participated in the SPEP 12 program, and their dads – Dr. Bobby Jivnani and Dr. Marco Caballeros – were program instructors.

Dr. Jivnani, a former SPEP student and dental school alumnus, said it was emotional walking the halls this summer with his daughter, Dheeya.

“It was almost déjà vu, coming back into the lab,” he said. “Twenty years has passed … and now I’m here, and my child is here. I never imagined that my child would want to do the same thing. I was showing her around; I’m proud she wants to do this.”

The programs are available to students from rising 10th graders through post-baccalaureate, and they provide training in the basics of dentistry, college and dental school prep, and guidance on pursuing various oral healthcare careers.

Dr. Kerin Burdette, director of the Office of Student Development, said the program instructors’ desire to enroll their own children says a lot about SPEP.

“When I see that a father, who is working as a successful dentist thinks enough of the program to bring his child back, that’s priceless because people don’t take risks when it comes to their kids,” she said. “They only put their kids in the best of hands.”

Jivnani said he’s never pushed Dheeya to pursue dentistry, but she’s always shown interest in his career, asking questions and tagging along to his office. Unbeknownst to him, she began researching opportunities for students her age to explore dentistry and discovered the Future Dentist Club, a program for fourth through 12th graders. She joined the club last school year, and this summer enrolled in SPEP 12.

“A lot of people do think (my interest) is because of my dad,” said Dheeya. “He helped me through it, but I’ve always had an interest in working with my hands. I paint and draw, and when I went to my dad’s office, I liked that you get to complete tasks … there’s a final product to it.”

Dheeya said the best part about SPEP was the hands-on labs, and she enjoyed watching her dad help other students.

“It’s a cool way for him to give back,” she said. “It’s all really meaningful because he’s worked all these years to build a practice and a foundation, and it would be cool and helpful if I also went through dentistry. I think it’s nice to follow in his footsteps, help him out and continue the legacy of his practice.”

Dr. Marco Caballeros works with a student in the collegiate SPEP.

Dr. Caballeros has been an SPEP instructor for several years, and his daughter, Victoria, joined the Future Dentists Club as a sixth grader. She enrolled in her first SPEP at age 14 and this summer completed SPEP 12.

“I love these programs,” said Victoria. “It’s so rewarding to see them pay off. They’re very interactive, and it’s hands-on. It’s a situation where you have to do it and see it to know it.”

Caballeros started dental school the same year Victoria was born, and she spent a lot of time on campus throughout her early childhood.

“Ever since she was little, she has said she wanted to be a dentist,” Caballeros said. “Now seeing her here, putting in all the work … it’s very special to me to see her becoming this person who, hopefully, will be able to follow in my footsteps and be a successful practitioner.”

The father-daughter duo both admit to becoming emotional when watching the other work.

“I’m at his office a lot, working with him in the summers,” Victoria said, “and people always make an effort to tell me about my dad and how he helped them. It makes me emotional to see how he impacts people’s lives.

“I love being with my dad and watching him do what he loves to do,” she said.

Victoria Caballeros focuses on her work during SPEP 12.

Caballeros said his heart swelled as he watched his daughter give her presentation on the final day.

“I’ve seen her in the program since she was younger and making it to this point … watching her in front of the class and all those parents … I was very emotional,” he said.

Caballeros hopes that all students interested in dentistry will take advantage of SPEP and recognize the opportunity it provides.

“It’s one in a million,” he said. “There aren’t too many schools that do this. If students do it right, the sky’s the limit. The program works, and I’m a living example of what it can do for you.”

SPEP changed not only the lives of Drs. Caballeros and Jivnani, but also their daughters.

— Kristen Tribe

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