By: Erik Pedersen, Senior Communications Manager
Class of 2023 Spotlights
BALTIMORE – Brenda Rivera ’23 worked hard to emphasize the importance of earning a college degree to her three daughters. Rivera had been unable to attend in her younger years due to her family’s financial difficulties, and she wanted to give her children every opportunity to be successful.
Rivera got her wish, with all three of her daughters attending and graduating from college. Later this month she will join them, fulfilling a lifelong dream by graduating from Notre Dame of Maryland University’s School of Education.
An early childhood education major who is earning dual certification for elementary and early childhood education, Rivera has spent the past several years working at St. John the Evangelist School in Severna Park. Encouragement from a teacher led her to initially enter the education profession as a preschool assistant, and she recently became a teacher with her own preschool classroom during the coronavirus pandemic.
Learn more about Rivera’s path to NDMU:
Take us through your career path after high school. What led you to your current role at St. John the Evangelist?
After high school, I first worked as an administrative assistant. I then became a headhunter – helping people with their resumes, finding them jobs, matching them to their qualifications and interviewing them. That was a great experience – I loved doing that.
Once my daughters started going to school, though, I got to know one of their elementary school teachers. She eventually moved down to the preschool level, and she told me that she had gone through several teaching assistants, with each leaving after a year. She said, ‘I see how much you love children, would you come work for me?’
I had never considered a job like that, but I thought to myself, I’m already at the school volunteering all the time, I might as well be there with my daughters. I’m grateful for that teacher – she saw something in me that I hadn’t previously seen in myself. I came to work with her, and education has been a part of my life ever since.
What inspired you to go back to school and enroll in college, first at Anne Arundel Community College and then here at Notre Dame?
I had taken one psychology class previously at the community college. I formed a study group with some other students, and I was amazed at how easily they accepted me. They didn’t care that I was older, they were just so accepting. That took away any nerves I might have had about fitting in.
After that it was like, ‘Well, this is what I’ve wanted to do all along.’ I had hoped to attend after high school, but my family couldn’t afford it. My daughters were older, they were starting to graduate from college and they were telling me it was my turn. I’ve always wanted to have a college degree. All three of my daughters have college degrees – I always instilled that in them. I didn’t want them to go through what I did, being passed over and not being looked at because you don’t have a college degree.
I started at Anne Arundel Community College, and while I was there I learned that they had a cohort program with Notre Dame, which made it easy for me to transfer there to complete my degree. The principal at St. John the Evangelist (Casey Buckstaff M’05) is also a Notre Dame alum, so I was able to learn a little about the school from her as well.
What was your Notre Dame experience like?
It was great – everyone in the School of Education has been awesome. All of the teachers – you’re not just an ID number, you’re a student – and you can see how dedicated they are to seeing their students excel. Every teacher made a great impact on me with how much love and effort they put into each one of the students that come into the school, and that’s why I want to continue and do my master’s here.
Did any faculty member make a particularly strong impact on you during your time here?
She might not know this, but of all the teachers I’ve had, Dr. (Katherine) Beauchat has made the greatest impact on my life. She’s just amazing. Her classes are so organized. The effort that she puts into her teaching, and how relaxed she is about it, that’s the kind of teacher that I want to be for my students. I teach preschool, and the resources that she’s given me have helped so much in my classroom. To plan lessons for my students, to know how to introduce their letters and letter sounds, etc.
She’s one of the main reasons I want to come back and get my master’s. She made me think about my mom. My mom has a third-grade education, and when my father died she didn’t know how to write a check; she didn’t know how to read. That was really tough for her, and when I met Dr. Beauchat, something clicked for me that this is what I want to study. Not for myself, but for helping students not have to go through what my mom did with struggling to read. With everything you do, you have to read. To move forward, you have to know how to read.
How will this degree help you, both professionally and in your daily life?
This degree will help me, first of all, to fulfill my dream of being a college graduate that I’ve had for all my life. It will also help me become a better teacher to my students, whether I stay in preschool or choose to do an elementary grade. I can transfer all the knowledge that I’ve learned to use best practices for my students. I think that’s another main reason why I wanted to do it, because it’s beneficial to them and I can make a difference in their lives. Everyone always says that, but it’s true. You make a difference, and it doesn’t matter if they remember later on or not. What matters is that you did something.
Established in 1895, Notre Dame of Maryland University (NDMU) is a private, Catholic institution in Baltimore, Maryland, with the mission to educate leaders to transform the world. Notre Dame has been named one of the best "Regional Universities North" by U.S. News & World Report.