UC made a lifelong dream possible for one student
Even as a little girl, Lizzie Bernys, ’23, wanted to become a teacher. She set up a classroom in her bedroom, complete with a whiteboard, chalkboard and vintage student’s desk. Her setup complete, she would go about instructing the imaginary students before her. “Teaching,” she says, “was the first dream job I had growing up.”
That dream was reinforced by her own teachers, who “did their best to make sure their classrooms were a welcoming and loving environment,” where she felt accepted.
Bernys considered other options as the years passed. But as she pondered her future while in high school, she came back to teaching because “it just felt right.”
At UC, Bernys discovered special education — her ultimate dream job.
“I honestly did not have anything specific that pushed me toward special education,” Bernys says. “I did not have anyone prominent in my life who had a disability. So I was not exposed to that community in the way that a lot of people who have gone into special ed are. I think I was actually looking at the majors that UC offered, and I saw special ed, and for some reason it just felt like the right way to go. I didn’t really have a reason for going into it, but it turned out to be the place I was supposed to be.”
Outside of the classroom, Bernys worked at IMPACT Innovation, a lifestyle and vocational enrichment program for adults impacted by autism. Through that work, Bernys picked up additional employment assisting families in their homes.
Along the way, she made an unexpected discovery. “I actually realized through that experience that I’m autistic myself, and I went through my whole childhood undiagnosed,” Bernys says. “Getting to work with those individuals and learning more about disabilities through my courses, I was really able to relate to my own experience.”
Scholarship assistance made her career possible
Bernys is from Bay Village, Ohio, a small town outside of Cleveland. She earned her bachelor of science in education in May, was a regular Dean’s List honoree, and was the recipient of Cohen Century Scholarships.
“Unfortunately, jobs in special education aren’t the highest paying, so it was kind of hard to think about the fact that I wasn’t making that much money in the jobs I was performing,” Bernys says. “With my scholarships, I was able to keep the jobs that I was passionate about while gaining experience for my future career.”
If Bernys could meet the donors who helped fund her scholarships, she would thank them for helping students like herself achieve their dreams. “I don’t even know if I could express how thankful I am,” she says. “I know these donors help out not just me but so many other UC students. A lot of my friends receive scholarships, and they wouldn’t be as successful at UC without them.”
Having graduated and earned her Ohio licensures, Bernys is now working with children in kindergarten through second grade in a special education classroom in Warren County, Ohio. Because she has so much experience working with adults and high school students who lacked access to early interventions, she knows there is much she can offer her very young students. “Working with this young age group, I want to do everything I can to really pound in foundational communication skills,” she says. “I want to give them the support and any of the devices they require to communicate their needs and set them up for their future.”
Featured image at top: Exterior of College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services. Photo/provided.