Psychology alumna to help children with special needs, troubled pasts succeed
By Heather Doherty
August 29, 2016
Being a student can be a full-time job on its own. But when you throw in parenting, working and moving across the country – twice – you have the story of a dedicated individual whose life goal is to be a role model and help others succeed.
When Samantha Diaz enrolled online with Oregon State Ecampus, she was a mom with a job and a husband in the military.
“I wanted to show my kids that even though I’m a mother, I can still go to school and I can still work hard for what I want,” she says. “I mainly wanted to set a good example for my kids.”
She had previously earned an associate’s degree in early education, worked part time at a day care and spent time caring for her children while her husband, Albert, worked as a submarine nuclear mechanic engineer in the Navy.
After moving across the country for the second time during Albert’s post in the military, Samantha wanted to put what she had been learning in school in action, and she landed a job as a teaching assistant for a preschool special education class.
“That changed me and made me finalize what I want to do in the future,” she says.
With her days beginning at 5 a.m. and wrapping up around 11 p.m., Samantha did everything she could to maintain a work-life-school balance.
“Thankfully I went for Ecampus because I wanted to balance my school and my family,” she says. “There was no way for me to go to school on campus with everything else going on.”
She transitioned to working with middle school-aged students in a special education class where she discovered her passion.
Following advice from her Oregon State advisor, Nathan Walters, Samantha switched her major from liberal studies to psychology so she could learn more about the human mind. She hopes to inspire children with special needs be creative, engaged and empowered so they can make a difference in the world.
“The distinctive challenges of teaching children with special needs is what motivates me,” she says. “It challenges my knowledge, my skills and how to be an effective teacher. I truly believe all children have the potential to be successful in many ways.”
“I want to teach and guide these children to become creative, liberated, engaged and empowered to make a difference and change the world to be a better place.”
In her online classes, she learned how to manage habits, reward certain behaviors and be patient.
“Not everyone has the same behavior or learns the same way, so it was good to learn different techniques in the classes and apply it to my work field and at home,” she says.
Samantha graduated in June and plans on pursuing a teaching credential in special education and later a master’s degree. In addition to teaching children with special needs, she hopes to expand her reach to working with juvenile children with troubled pasts.
“They have so much potential in life,” she says. “They just need help finding their own positive qualities and unknown talents, and they need a solid support system. I want to teach and guide these children to become creative, liberated, engaged and empowered to make a difference and change the world to be a better place.”
Pregnant with her third child, Samantha reflected on her time at OSU as she walked with her fellow classmates at this year’s commencement ceremony.
“This program really did help me gain more knowledge, not just about special education, but about the world in general,” she says.
She now looks forward to settling in to her new life as she supports her husband, who is completing his post-baccalaureate computer science degree online through Ecampus.
“I don’t think he would admit this, but I think that he saw me going to school and working and being a mother, and I think that he knows that if I can do it, he can do it,” she says. “He loves school as much as I do. We’re both Beavers now.”