Laura LaMarsh is a dedicated PSU Viking. She earned her BS, MS, and Initial Administrator License all at PSU. Laura’s career in special education started when she became as an education assistant at Northwest Regional Educational Service District (NWRESD), working with a student with severe orthopedic needs. One day the director told her that she had been selected to be part of a pilot team working with children with autism. When she asked why she had been selected for this position, Laura was informed that it was because she “had a good record of showing up daily and on time.”
This quiet start has led to a remarkable career in the field. Laura is currently the coordinator of autism services and coordinator of the elementary deaf and hard of hearing program in Hillsboro, a facilitator of the Autism Statewide Leadership Grant through the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), a commissioner on the Oregon Commission for ASD (OCASD), and an adjunct faculty member at PSU. Laura emphasizes that her career is not just a job, but a passion for making a difference in the lives of children.
What has proven to be the most useful thing you learned while at the GSE?
The most useful thing I have learned not only at the GSE but at PSU in general was that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. I found I had a wealth of support from staff all along the way. PSU professors see the potential in every student and nurture that, allowing the student to grow, to become more confident, and to be able to accept challenges.
What is the accomplishment in your career that you are most proud of?
The thing I am most proud of is a connection I made working with one student many years ago. I met the student when that student was a toddler and very impacted with a disability. No language, limited mobility. Two years later in an early childhood class, the team all agreed the student would never communicate orally. However, in kindergarten, when working with the same student, I heard that first word. It proved to me at an early point in my professional career that we can never put limits on our children or they will rise only to those limits. I have learned since to never say “it will never happen.” I have worked with many teams and students in a variety of settings. I have seen many successes for children but in this case, where I worked with one child for a very short amount of time and made a difference—this student had the biggest impact in my career.
The GSE strives to make an impact on our community through the work of our students, faculty, and alumni—what does the term “impact on the community” mean to you?
Currently, as we struggle for educational proficiency and deal with financial restraints, how we collaborate (or as we learned in kindergarten, how we play with others) is the most important thing we do. As graduate students we are expected to graduate and go out into the world and teach young minds. We only get there if the dedication of our faculty inspires us to look at the work as a passion, not just a job. My professors taught me to always learn more, never just rest on what I knew in the moment. That type of professional growth impacts a larger community, a district, a county, or even a state. As graduates we live our passion for our work with children every day. We work to make the big picture of education better, we mentor others, and we share our knowledge with others freely and with no conditions.
How do you try to incorporate this concept into your daily work?
This is an interesting question because I don’t think about how I impact others; rather, it has become a part of who I am. Every day I try to make a difference to education no matter how small or insignificant it might appear. When the snowball rolls down the mountain, the little piece of snow gets bigger and bigger as it picks up more snow. My ideas, your ideas, others’ ideas, and everyone’s contributions to education just keep growing, making a difference every day for our students, their families, and the communities we all live in.
Did you have a favorite course/professor/project while at the GSE?
That’s like thanking people at the Oscars. If you forget someone you are in trouble forever. I always found PSU professors to be intriguing and have challenging ideas that kept me thinking and growing.
What advice would you give students currently enrolled or recently graduated?
If you are just starting your programs, keep at it because graduation will come very soon. If you have graduated, congratulations and welcome to a job with multiple challenges and the biggest rewards you will ever experience. Always be true to who you are and what you believe, and you will go wherever you wish.