Autism in family inspired her to get master’s degree
Story and photos by Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
Life has a funny way of leading us to where we are meant to be, even if it’s not what we had initially picked for ourselves. For Ember Freitas, supporting her family — specifically her two sons with autism — was what helped her make the the leap to earning her Masters of Education degree in Early Childhood Education and Special Education on Saturday at Grand Canyon University.
Freitas and GCU go back way before her master’s program, though.
“I actually started my undergrad at GCU,” Freitas said. “I was a business major, and I kind of just felt myself being led to a different direction because of stuff that was going on in my family.”
Eventually, Freitas would seek out another degree program at another university that specialized in autism and applied behavioral analysis. After starting at her new university, it wasn’t be long before she noticed how different her online experiences were.
“I switched schools and I regretted it,” she said. “I did not have a pleasant experience with the advisors, I did not have a pleasant experience with the different department, financial aid. It was always something and it was really stressful.”
When the time came for Freitas to pursue a master’s to be able to teach in her home state of Hawaii, she was pleasantly surprised to be reunited with GCU.
“I was looking at different schools and I saw GCU had a program and it was a dual-certification program and I was like yes, yes, yes,” she said.
She finally received the assistance she needed with her questions and credits her counselors with guiding her through her online program. But that wasn’t the only thing that was different from her experience at another school.
“Even though I was online, they made me feel a part of the school,” Freitas said.
Freitas felt even more connected at her commencement ceremony Saturday afternoon, when she finally got to see the campus and purchase some GCU gear. She said the experience of finally being at GCU was surreal.
It was proud day for Freitas as she reflected on all the odds that could have prevented her from walking across the the commencement stage to accept her diploma. She hopes she can encourage others to not give up.
“I was a teen mom and I had people tell me that I was never going to go anywhere,” she said. “I barely graduated high school, both my sisters went to college right out of high school and it took me awhile. I’m 32 years old, but I never gave up.”
Now she is the first in her family to receive her master’s. She said she has never worked harder for anything in her life.
Freitas’ degree makes her eligible for hire in Hawaii. She hopes to be able to get a job at the school where she is student teaching.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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