From Child Development Permit to Master's Degree

When Linda Awad’s young son was diagnosed with Autism, she was devastated. But she knew that in order to give her son a chance at living his best life, education would be her key to his future. We connected with Linda to talk about her path, what discoveries she made along the way, and how her success will not only be her son’s success, but will impact the futures of many children.

Q: What brought you to UCR University Extension?

A: “I started my journey at the Riverside County Office of Education, back in 2013. I took a course and received a Certificate of Training in Childcare Occupations. I really enjoyed it and was eager to learn more about childhood development. The instructor at the time, Cindy Nesbitt, mentioned UCR University Extension as one of the options, if anyone was interested in continuing their education.

I began taking classes and received my Child Development Associate Teacher permit. But, it still wasn’t enough for me. I felt the need to know and learn more. Dr. Guillermina Hernandez encouraged me to continue my education, recommended Union Institute & University, and helped guide me in my journey to getting my Bachelor's degree in Child and Adolescent Development.

I was delighted and excited about getting my Bachelor's and once again, Dr. Hernandez strongly encouraged me to keep going. She suggested I look into a Master's program and get my teaching credentials. I was interested in special education and wanted to work with kids with special needs.

Getting a teaching credential was a little difficult, and it didn’t work out at the time due to family circumstances and personal reasons. However, I wanted to keep going, so I looked into different degree options. I found a great program at Arizona State University that worked out better for me and my circumstances, at the time. I was able to earn my M.A. in Special Education, with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis.

Now that I have my Master's degree, I want to become a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Due to the COVID pandemic, I had to put completing my supervised fieldwork on hold. Completing the required 2000 hours to sit for the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) exam is definitely my next goal!”

Q: What were some of the unexpected hurdles in your journey? What were some of the unexpected benefits?

A: “I wanted to combine the answers for these two questions because my hurdles and benefits came from the same source. I couldn’t continue my education earlier because I had my son at a young age, but when he was diagnosed with autism, it became my primary reason and motivation to go back to school. As a mother, I could not help but feel defeated by this disorder. It was my responsibility to take care of my child, and I felt that I failed him. I could not endure such feelings, and this encouraged me to go back to school, and better educate myself for the sake of my son.

I wanted my son to reach his full potential, and live his life like a normal child would, without any labels. I realized that the help he needed was far beyond what I could provide him at the time. It has been an interesting journey for me that changed my perspective on motherhood and caring for children. Through the Early Childhood Education courses, I took at RCOE and UCR University Extension, to my Bachelor’s and Master’s programs, I was able to increase my knowledge of children, and their developmental milestones.

Education gave me hope and helped me better understand what I can do to help improve my son’s life regardless of his disability. It taught me acceptance, and to be grateful for what my son can do and who he is.”

Q: What difference did your experience at UCR University Extension make to your life path and career goals?

A:“My time and experience at UCR University Extension definitely taught me a lot and influenced my later decisions. It’s been a long and interesting journey that has changed my perspective on so many things. I was able to meet many influential people, and gained more skills and knowledge in child development.

My favorite part of the program was the supervised field experience in the Early Childhood Studies course. I enjoyed applying what I learned in the classroom to a real-world setting. During the Early Childhood Studies course, I had the opportunity to work with children of different age groups, and I gained so much great knowledge about how they develop and learn.

I also enjoyed the course on curriculum and teaching strategies for children with special needs, which increased my desire to learn more about special education and work with children.”

Q: Was there something (or someone) memorable to your experience?

A: “I want to thank Dr. Guillermina Hernandez for all of her help and support. She was a major influence in my educational journey. She inspired me, gave me the courage to believe in myself, and always motivated me to keep moving forward.”

Q: What are you doing now, Linda?

A: “I am not working yet because I have my kids at home doing virtual school. My daughter is in the 1st grade and my son, 5th grade. They will be returning to in-person learning in the fall, so I am in the process of searching and applying for a job that will help me reach my goal of acquiring the needed hours to become a BCBA. I always love being at home with my children, but I am an expert multi-tasker, and so excited to get back out there and get my 2000 hours!"

Q: Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

A: “My only regret in life is that I wish I knew everything I know now when my son was born. Raising children is already a difficult task, and is only more complicated when your child has special needs. Aside from the patience and unconditional love needed to raise children of all abilities, I believe it’s crucial to educate yourself with the necessary knowledge and skills to better care for and educate our children.

I want to share my knowledge and experiences with others who face similar problems to mine. I want to help others by empowering them with knowledge so they can learn how to advocate for their children, and give hope for a better future for ALL children.”

UCR University Extension graduate Linda Awan Linda Shafik Awad
M.A. Special Education
Arizona State University
B.A. Child and Adolescent Development
Union Institute & University
Child Development Associate Teacher Permit