Student Spotlight: Sammie Marita

Sammie Marita stands in a green garden, wearing a dark blue blouse with a pink necklace.

Finding your passion in life is a privilege in and of itself. Finding it and chasing it with all that you have, however, is another (even better) thing entirely. It’s more or less the reason we’re all here; find what you love and do it well. In fact, do it so well that you get your PhD in it.

Sammie Marita—Graduate School Dean’s Fellow, researcher, PhD student, “Hamilton” enthusiast—became acutely aware of her passion for helping students with learning disabilities when she came to the University of Cincinnati. Marita participated in the Bearcat Buddies program through the Center for Community Engagement, realizing her love of working with students. The years that followed would be occupied by embracing her passion. Marita would work countless hours with individuals with autism and behavioral disabilities in home and school settings. After earning a bachelor’s degree in special education and a master’s degree in educational studies, Marita is now two semesters away from graduating with her PhD in educational studies with a focus in special education.

Initially, Marita wanted to pursue mathematics strategy research and investigate how students with disabilities engaged with algebraic concepts, as well as how teachers could best instruct these students. But Marita's interests evolved even further. Staying in the same vein of special education, but expanding to investigate the emotional and psychological factors that come with disability, she began to ask deeper questions addressing the students' "identity around disability, social implications, and self-confidence." Delving into this research has led to her dissertation, one that centers around the emotional aspects of being a student with learning disabilities.

"My intention is to develop a better understanding of what it is like to have a learning disability, what factors related to disability influence academics, and what these individuals think could be improved in schools to better support these types of students." says Marita, "However, I think this type of work goes further than just influencing academic instruction. Schools are where our young people spend a large percentage of their time learning and developing their thoughts about the world."

Further, Marita's respect for her own discipline is both obvious and vast. "I still keep in touch with a number of students and families I have served. I think my favorite aspect of this field is how hardworking everyone is. Teachers work so hard to support their students.... The students have so much drive and determination to accomplish their goals, and the families truly are warriors for their children. There is a lot of care and passion in the field. If we can increase understanding of disability in schools, we have the ability to change perceptions about disability and create a society of awareness, understanding, and acceptance. Hopefully my research will be a piece of this change."

The doctoral student spends her days contributing to her research by interviewing students with learning disabilities. When she's not working on her dissertation, she's working on her dissertation. Reading, writing, teaching, and more writing—she listens to the Hamilton soundtrack, specifically "Non-Stop," to keep herself going—and her dedication shows in everything that she does. Not only is the doctoral student eager for a future career in education, but she's also more than grateful for the vehicles that have helped her get to where she is now.

"The support I have received from my committee, my classmates, the Educational Studies program, and the School of Education has been amazing. I am so grateful for their help and guidance."

Written by Danniah Daher, Graduate Assistant to the Graduate School Office