For two hours every morning, Maria Rocha would board a public bus and make her way from her hometown of Dos Palos to Stan State for her first class.
Her 6 a.m. wakeup call often left her feeling exhausted, but she never tired in her pursuit of her degree, which she hopes will enable her to become a special education teacher.
“I want to make a positive difference in the lives of my students by encouraging them to use their voices,” Rocha said. “I believe that the students in special education are powerful. Decisions should not be made for them, but rather they should be the ones contributing, making the decisions, and leading the way in how we educate them.”
Her own experience as a differently abled person inspired Rocha passion to make education better for others, explained Cassandra Drake, assistant professor of liberal studies.
“Maria has proven that she is truly exceptional,” Drake said. “She moves forward from our program toward earning a credential in special education, one step closer to being an inspirational teacher who will show her future students that no matter what challenges life presents you with, those who are differently abled can and do achieve their goals when they set their minds to it.”
Rocha is proud of the obstacles she has overcome to become a first-generation college graduate.
“My experiences at Stan State could serve as an inspiration to current and future students,” said Rocha, who chose Stan State because of its liberal studies program, and after seeing the campus’ beauty and feeling of inclusiveness during a tour with friends. “I remember finishing up homework or studying for tests during those early morning commutes to campus. I remember being exhausted but always reminding myself that getting my degree, going into the classroom and making a difference in the lives of my students was going to make the sacrifice worth it. During my time at Stan State, I have faced several challenges, but I always remind myself what my goals and dreams are, that I will reach them one day, and to continue to fight, be strong and persevere.”
Rocha said she found her voice as a Stan State student and wants to use it to advocate for herself and others as she looks to enter a credential program to complete her dream of becoming a special education teacher.
“I see many flaws in education, especially in the special education field, which encouraged me to get my degree in liberal studies and change the way our students are taught,” Rocha said. “With my degree, I hope to make that positive change and impact in the lives of my students.”
Dos Palos, CA
Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies with a concentration in exceptional children and youth
What memories stand out most from your time at Stanislaus State?
“The memories that stand out the most from my time at Stanislaus State are the classes that empowered me, the friendships I created and the different perspectives of my classmates that I was fortunate to hear and learn from.”
Which faculty or staff member had the greatest impact on you, and why?
“The faculty member that has had the greatest impact on me is Dr. Cassandra Drake, because she believed in me. I remember times when I was going through hardships, and she was there for me, supporting me and guiding me. She taught me that my voice matters and to advocate for myself and others. She advocated for me when I needed someone; she empowered me.”
What advice would you give to current and future students?
“Do not give up. Those late nights staying up to complete assignments, early morning commutes, working and going to school at the same time — the sacrifices you make are all going to be worth it, because you will have the degree you worked so hard for. I would also encourage students to reach out to others when they need help. You are not alone, and you will accomplish your dreams. Believe in yourself.”
Note: This article is part of the StanGrad series highlighting Stanislaus State students who are part of the Class of 2021. Read more StanGrad profiles.