Cynthia believes that life provides opportunities for second and third careers. She earned her B.A. in Spanish Language and Literature from Penn State, and then completed a Master of Science in Information Science degree at the University of Pittsburgh. Cynthia worked in business as a programmer, process analyst, data administrator, group leader and group manager, but it wasn't until she accepted a long-term substitute assignment as an aide to a student with emotional, behavioral, and cognitive disabilities that she discovered her “true calling”. She writes that “…I had never felt better than when helping students meet the academic, social, and emotional challenges of middle school”, Cynthia decided to enter the Special Education Master’s Program with Teacher Certification (SEM-T) program at EMU and prepare to become a secondary special education teacher. Cynthia finds that there are strong connections between her “first and second careers”. She uses her Spanish skills in translating school documents for families who do not speak English, and she has also worked to help transition Spanish speaking students into English speaking classrooms. Cynthia also sees connections between her career as an Information Scientist and her career as a Special Education Teacher noting that many of the skills honed as an Information Scientist are, “… essential to teachers such as good communication, prioritizing under changing circumstances, identifying strengths in others, and working as a team”. Cynthia’s research interests focus on the ways that service providers can improve outreach and support for Latino families of children with disabilities, and she has already presented a paper on this topic at the Michigan Chapter of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Cynthia has two children, a son with ADHD and emotional impairment, and a daughter. Cynthia leads her daughter's Girl Scout troop as well as a volunteers at a therapeutic horseback riding program in the area serving children with disabilities and their families.
Julie writes, “I grew up as my family’s babysitter, caring for my two siblings, and for the children of friends in our neighborhood. People assumed that I would work with children all my life”. While dealing with some stressful, challenging, and difficult life circumstances, Julie discovered that her interests and passions lay in working with children who need support to develop speech, language and communication skills. She became fascinated watching her own daughter’s early language skills develop and decided that she wanted to become a Speech/Language Pathologist. “I feel that I am a living example of someone who has faced adversity and gotten the chance to rise above it. I work hard at being an excellent role model for young women and mothers who need a new direction.” Julie joined the Speech/Language Pathology program at EMU in 2008, and has “never looked back”. She maintained a 4.0 GPA in her undergraduate work, and has just begun her graduate program in Speech/Language Pathology, which she describes as a “…thrilling adventure to study!” Julie and her young daughter currently live with her parents in order to “…maximize my limited resources” so she can pursue her studies full-time.
Pamela is a two-time graduate of the University of Michigan, with an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and History, and a graduate degree in American Culture. She has volunteered considerable amounts of time tutoring both U of M and EMU students, across an array of subject matter. Her volunteer efforts were duly noted when she received the Maize and Blue award from the University of Michigan at the time of her graduation. Although she truly enjoyed her tutoring experiences, she writes: “…somehow I had missed the cue from the universe that I was supposed to become a teacher, and over the next two years the universe took more drastic measures to get my attention.” Pamela’s son, David, was born in 2002, and his growth and development proceeded normally until he was 19 months old, when he was diagnosed with moderate/severe Autism. At the moment of diagnosis, Pamela knew that “…there is no other way for me to be a whole person than to embrace my destiny as teacher-advocate-mother.” She completed her graduate coursework at the University of Michigan and simultaneously began her work in the SEM-T program at EMU, focusing on earning her teaching certificate and endorsement as a Teacher of Students with Cognitive Impairment. In addition to carrying a full load as a SEM-T student, she has worked as a Graduate Assistant in the Department of Special Education for the last two years. This past year she completed her requirements for certification and endorsement, and has now entered the Master of Arts in Autism Spectrum Disorders program at EMU, with anticipated graduation in April 2012. Pamela has a strong interest in research and has presented and published in the area of disability studies. She is a strong advocate of inclusionary practices in schools, and works tirelessly to achieve appropriate educational services for her son as well as other students with disabilities.
McLaine is the daughter of an elementary teacher “…with a passion for supporting children with disabilities”. She is also the niece of a Speech/Language Pathologist whose “…passion for children with special needs goes beyond just fixing a problem”. McLaine writes that “…these two people have moved me to commit my life to bettering the lives of children”, and she has already demonstrated her commitment through her volunteer work with the children’s ministry at her church, and her travels to Uganda to care for children living in the orphanages there. McLaine has just completed her junior year in the Speech/Language Pathology program at EMU, and plans to remain at EMU to pursue her graduate degree. She writes about her experiences working with children with disabilities and that through these experiences she has learned that “…no matter the hardships of the previous day, each child begins the next day with a clean slate”. McLaine has been pursuing her research interests in the area of co-teaching, and was a presenter at this year’s EMU Undergraduate Symposium.
Christina worked for four years as the Director of Programs and Operations at the Family Learning Institute (FLI), a community-based non-profit literacy program in Ann Arbor, MI. At the FLI she met Norvion, a fourth grader reading at “…barely a first grade level…”, who did his writing “…underneath the table, opting for the safety its shadows offered his oversized handwriting and misspellings.” It was Christina’s work with Norvion, and other students struggling with reading and writing, that led her goals to be changed from “…wanting to run a non-profit to that of needing to be in the classroom working directly with students for more hours a day than what an after school program could afford.” She realized that although she had earned her teaching certificate, she lacked specialized skills in working with students with disabilities, and that in excess of sixty percent of the students in the FLI program had IEP’s, and many were diagnosed with Learning Disabilities. Christina was accepted into the Master of Arts in Learning Disabilities program at EMU, and will graduate from that program in June 2011. Her plans after graduation focus on “…continuing to work with students like Norvion, matching my instruction to their learning styles, even if it means conducting writing conferences in the shadows and safety underneath the table”.
Megan writes, “I figured out what I am supposed to be doing by doing what I was not supposed to”. She goes on to describe the summer of her junior year in high school when she was a member of the Youth Volunteer Corps and worked at the local YMCA day camp. Megan was asked to work with a little girl who had a visual impairment. Megan writes, “I said ‘yes’, but was very nervous since it would be my first time ever working with a child with any sort of disability. So began the hardest, most tiring, and most rewarding week of my life.” With that, Megan’s career path to becoming a Special Education teacher had begun. Megan described the many activities she did with this child, helping her learn to use her long cane to navigate around Ann Arbor, learning to swing on the swings at an area park, and learning to keep her head above water when they went swimming. The little girl was shocked to learn that Megan couldn’t read Braille, and Megan was “…shocked to find that even after learning so much that week, I knew nothing”. Megan came to EMU thinking she would become a school counselor, but after her first Education class, “Teaching Students with Exceptional Learning Needs”, she realized that her passion kept taking her back to that little girl in the YMCA summer camp many years before. Megan writes at the conclusion of her essay, “I want to remember that week I spent doing what I was not supposed to, and know that now I am on my way to where I belong”.
Anna writes, “Learning Disabilities were affecting my life long before I knew what they were, much less that there was a field dedicated to their study and treatment”. Her fifth grade brother could barely read and write, and frequently feigned illness to avoid going to school. The school principal had declared her brother to be “academically hopeless”, and Anna saw that her brother had begun to believe it was true. “I knew it wasn’t true, I knew he was smart, but I didn’t know how to help him.” Two years later Anna and her family left their native Latvia and moved to the United States. Anna writes, “Here, no one expected him to know how to read or write; no one had labeled him or given up on him”, and after receiving individualized instruction through English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, her brother was able read, write and learn, making straight A’s in high school, and gaining admission to the University of Michigan. “This was my first lesson in how effective teaching and high expectations can transform the life of a person with learning disabilities.” Anna worked part-time at Sylvan Learning Center providing supplemental and remedial learning experiences to struggling students. She began to discover she was working with many students who reminded her of her brother. She had discovered “her passion; her field”, and because of her dedicated work was offered the full-time position as Director of Education at the Sylvan Center, and over the past five years she’s successfully worked with many students providing the support and correct instructional “fit” to allow these troubled students to experience success. In 2008 Anna entered the Master of Arts in Learning Disabilities program at EMU because, “…I have seen the impact untreated learning disabilities had on my own family, and I am convinced that with knowledge and compassion we can change the lives of students with learning disabilities, and the families who love them.”
Ken comes to special education via a unique personal and family route: his parents are retired elementary school teachers, with his mother spending the majority of her career working with children in special education. Ken did not initially follow in their footsteps, pursuing a law degree, passing the bar and then serving as an attorney with Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services, and then with Delta Dental Corporation. He writes, “I had worked for over seven years with precise focus and dedication, yet was vaguely dissatisfied and restless for a lack of deeper fulfillment and purpose”. He began to reflect on how little of his “passion or talent” was a part of his work, and what of his day-to-day work “…demonstrably contributed to society”. Then came the current economic downturn, and he was laid off from his position with Delta Dental. Ken now says that his lay-off, “…was one of the happiest and most fortuitous days of my life!” He is currently working on obtaining his teaching certificate and Endorsement as a Teacher of Students with Cognitive Impairment, and then hopes to pursue a Master of Arts in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Ken says his ultimate goal is to establish a disability consulting and advocacy firm, coupling his knowledge of law and special education to assist children with disabilities, and their families, secure appropriate special education services.