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Online Spanish studies help alum take her career to a higher degree

By earning her degree online with OSU, Maria Reading checked several items off her wish list: realizing her dream of graduating from college, advancing her career and gaining formal training in a language that is a part of her family’s history.

Learning online with Oregon State ‘has made a world of difference’ to Maria Reading

By Becky Barrett

Maria Reading was a young child when she moved with her family from Mexico to Southern California. Spanish was her first language. But as she and her nine siblings began school, their world became immersed in English.

“There really was no time to contemplate keeping my first language,” Reading says. “We spoke in Spanish to Mom and Dad. Other than that it was all English.”

Though her dad only completed third grade and worked in agriculture and construction, he instilled in her the value of an education.

“Without it you can be successful, but you have to work harder,” he would tell her. “I want you to use your mind.”

Working with children, setting an example for her own

After high school, Reading worked as a manager for the U.S. Postal Service. She got married and started a family. When her children were grown, she went to work as a teaching assistant in Houston, Texas, near where she now lives.

It was while working with students that Reading realized she still wanted to fulfill a lifelong dream to earn a college degree and reclaim her native language.

“It’s very important to be a positive role model to my children and grandchildren,” she says.

Reading took some college coursework when she was younger. She was looking for a program that would allow her to continue working while she studied Spanish to become an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher. That’s when she learned about Oregon State University Ecampus, ranked top 10 in the nation for online education for the fifth straight year by U.S. News & World Report.

“It was the best fit for me,” Reading says.

Taking her Spanish studies abroad

Earning a Spanish degree online with OSU gives her and other students the language skills they need to succeed in their careers while teaching them about other cultures. She says her instructors shared great insights. One of her favorite experiences was studying abroad in Samora, Spain. There she practiced Spanish while learning history.

“I learned a lot about the country and civilization in general (while studying abroad in Spain). … It was a great opportunity to keep up, learn the language and take it to a higher degree.”

“I learned a lot about the country and civilization in general,” she recalls.

Balancing school and life was easier for Reading because her instructors were so responsive. She also got help from her peers. Oregon State Ecampus courses use many tools to engage with students including VoiceThread, a cloud-based application that Reading used to converse with her classmates. For her language courses, she could only speak and write in Spanish.

“It was a great opportunity to keep up, learn the language and take it to a higher degree,” she says.

Before she went back to school, Reading says she was embarrassed when she tried to converse with her family from Mexico. Now, her cousins comment on how fluently she speaks.

“It’s made a world of difference,” she says.

Making good on her dad’s wish

Reading graduated with a Spanish degree in June 2019. She and her family traveled to OSU’s Corvallis campus so she could participate in the commencement ceremony and receive her diploma in person. As she prepares for her first year as an ESOL teacher in Texas, she feels ready to make a difference.

Working as a full-time teacher pays double what she earned as an instructional aide. But completing her degree wasn’t just about moving to a higher standard of living with more income.

Her wish to inspire her children and grandchildren is also coming true. Since she went back to school, two of Reading’s adult children have enrolled in college, including her son who had previously put his studies on hold.

“Now he’s very motivated to finish,” she says.

Reading wants her family to realize the benefits of an education, like her dad taught her. He died before he could see his daughter graduate, but her accomplishment is proof of what he believed in.

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