For Patricia M. Lujan, the phrase “once a Newman Jet — always a Newman Jet” hits home. Earning three degrees helps seal the deal.
When it came time for her to begin a master’s program, she said coming back to Newman was the easiest decision she had to make.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Lujan. “Experience is what matters in higher education and I can’t rave enough about Newman. I will always go to Newman if the degree I’m looking at is available. From the first time I went to now, I absolutely love it.”
That positive experience had much to do with one of her professors, Jessica Bird, but overall, Lujan said every staff member and professor she has come in contact with has gone above and beyond in understanding and helping in all the situations life has thrown her way.
“My advisor, Katherine Nelson, has been amazing and was so good at helping me figure everything out when I started my master’s last year,” said Lujan. “During my undergrad, I went through one semester while grieving a loved one’s death. Twice. And everyone was so amazing to work with each time. They helped me get through it.”
The relationships Lujan has built with other students have been solid and they have all leaned on each other through some tumultuous times.
Lujan’s positive experience at Newman has influenced some of her friends to experience it for themselves.
“I have two friends who have started the program,” she said. “They know and I know, you just don’t get that personable experience nowadays. The relationships you build (at Newman) are amazing and lasting.”
A passion for teaching
Lujan is in her fifth year of teaching preschool at Hickock Elementary in Ulysses, Kansas. Teaching is something she had always been interested in pursuing.
Her first degree was a social work bachelor’s degree from Fort Hays State University. After graduation, she took a case management position at a school. Lujan said she loved interacting with the kids but the amount of paperwork involved was hindering her time with them.
“That’s when I decided I wanted to be a teacher,” said Lujan. “I was hesitant at first, worried about what my parents would think because I had already gone through college for one degree and now I wanted to change my career path and return to school.”
However, when Lujan approached her family about the idea, they showered her with support.
“We have a lot of teachers in my family. And in our area, we have a lot of Hispanic families out here, and that appealed to me, too.”
Lujan is the oldest sibling in her family and watched her parents, who speak Spanish, navigate their way through the school system. She said the language barriers could be hard at times.
Her desire to change that and make it easier on the local community is yet another driving factor of her decision to switch her career to teaching.
“I’m Hispanic. I’m bilingual. I knew that I could be very helpful to families and other parents like mine. I could help make their lives a little easier because I’ll be there to be the translator.”
Lujan said her preference was to stay with the younger grades because she gets to be a part of that first experience they have at school.
“Growing up, I didn’t have anybody like me — Hispanic — but these kids get to say, ‘My teacher looks like me,’ and that is exciting to be that influence for them.”
A higher education journey
While attending Fort Hays State, Lujan became friends with the niece of Jessica Bird, current interim dean for the School of Education and Social Work at Newman University.
The more they talked about Newman, the more excited Lujan became to meet Bird and apply to the program.
“I was in a time of my life when I was in heavy reflection. When I did apply to the Newman education program, I had to do an interview with Jessica. She asked me about my ‘why’ among other things, and when I left that interview, I knew I had chosen the right school. That special connection had been planted. I would get everything I needed and learn what I needed to learn.”
Lujan’s decision to earn her pastoral ministry degree happened through her church community.
She learned of the partnership between Newman University and her local diocese through another church member. Since she was already deep into the accelerated education program at Newman, she decided not to take the first class.
But after learning more, she decided she already had many of the credits she needed to earn the degree, and taking the additional classes would be a way to grow in her faith.
“I’m a cradle Catholic, but I learned a lot of things I didn’t know and never thought to ask. It took me more time since the classes were only one day a week. But it was nice to build that extra connection with people in my community and diocese and learn more about my faith.”
Lujan wasn’t too far from being out of higher education before continuing her journey. She explained that she “might love school a little too much” but also has lofty goals.
Finding the perfect fit with ESOL
When a master’s program became part of Lujan’s next steps, she again turned to Bird.
“At first I would text Jessica and ask her questions. I was excited about the curriculum but I wanted to find out more about the different paths I could take in the master’s program.”
After learning about the ESOL (English as a second language) path that Newman offered, Lujan was hooked.
“I started getting really excited about going back and knew I eventually wanted to be an ESOL teacher. So it made sense to do this degree. Learning different techniques is important to me.”
Lujan wants to continue being a bridge for parents and teachers to build relationships and connections. She is able to immediately utilize the skills and techniques she is gaining from her new classes with her students on a daily basis.
“I want to help others and be that person that wasn’t there for me in school — the role model,” she said.
“My parents were great and I’ve had amazing educators through my schooling and some really inspiring people. But I also, many times, felt something was missing.”
Lujan is scheduled to complete her master’s degree in December 2022. She said she’s thankful to her parents who have played a huge role throughout her journey.
“They are my rock for anything I need. They took my transition so well and they just encouraged me and had my back.”