Gifts help students graduate on time, with less debt
Fly-fishing is a lot like teaching according to this year’s recipient of the UO’s Helen DeGnath Wessela Memorial Scholarship.
Stram has been fishing since he could hold a pole. The patience he learned on rivers near his hometown of Creswell, Oregon, shines through when he talks about helping students with special needs.
“Going into special education is a challenge,” he says, “but I grew up with a number of people who are impacted by disabilities. It’s always been part of my normal life experience.”
Stram spent his first year of college in California but missed Oregon, so he came home to the UO.
After working several years as a life skills assistant in local schools, he decided to become a teacher.
“The UO having one of the best special education programs in the country was a bonus,” he says. “Few people have that kind of program in their backyard.”
Stram prefers to work with students who face significant challenges. These may include autism, deafness, blindness, developmental delays, emotional disturbance, or intellectual disability. Others have an orthopedic disability, speech or language impairment, or traumatic brain injury.
“One of our main goals is to teach the daily life skills that most people take for granted,” he says. “Education can be a long and challenging journey for so many students. Knowing you played a role in helping students realize their potential is special.”
Stram’s own educational journey includes financial challenges but he doesn’t dwell on them. Although he received a Federal Pell Grant as an undergraduate and works to help pay for grad school, he’ll have loan payments to make when he gets his teaching license and master’s degree in special education this June.
“I will have more debt than I’d like, but still far less than most,” he says. “I’ve been extremely blessed to receive the Wessela Scholarship. Without it, I might not be in the position to become a teacher next year.”