I come from a family of teachers. I grew up in a small town and always knew that I wanted to be a teacher too. I was drawn to Special Education the College of Education because it is a really strong program. And, it is unique. Unlikely many programs across the country, Illinois offers the flexibility to gain experience and preparation to work with students of any age and with any disability. I was still trying to figure out where I wanted to focus within education, so this was a great fit.

Coming to a large university was overwhelming at first. It was so different from where I had come from. Finding smaller communities within the large campus made the place feel smaller and more manageable. There were 36 students in my Special Education cohort. We were supportive and worked cooperatively, becoming quite close. After graduation, we still stay in touch over Facebook! Having such a small group, it was also easy to get to know professors and practicum supervisors. They clearly cared about us on both an academic and a personal level. I was also very involved on campus outside of my major. Through the friend I met at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, I was invited to go on a retreat and in get involved in the ministries offered there. This introduced me to some of the most authentic people I have ever met. I know they will be my best friends for years to come. I became a leader of the retreats and intramural teams, and was able to use these experiences as resume builders.

After graduation, I decided to pursue an Academic Support Teacher position at St. Edward Central Catholic High School. I was drawn to this role because Catholic schools do not have state-mandated special education programs, and the principal at this school was passionate about starting one. I’m excited to be a part of the team that is creating and implementing a new curriculum. We are helping students, who previously could not attend this school, to work toward their own path to the graduation stage. It is a challenging position, but I am confident that Illinois prepared me for it.

For students back at Illinois, I encourage you to develop your networking skills. Also, know that networking does not have to be a big or formal thing. You can meet someone on Facebook or meet them at a party. Networking can be as simple as sparking a conversation with a peer and then following up. Take advantage of the resources available to you at Illinois. Diversify where you get involved. There are so many things you can experience, and so many people to meet. You never know who is going to be the person to help make a difference in your life tomorrow.