CeCe chose UNI to achieve her dream job in teaching

CeCe chose UNI to achieve her dream job in teaching

Anna Flanders /

Since she was in high school, UNI junior CeCe Grabinski has been on a mission to help individuals with disabilities. She has numerous loved ones with special needs, has provided respite care and has volunteered with individuals with special needs. 

For years, she debated whether she wanted to go into education or the medical field. Ultimately, she landed on education and is now pursuing an elementary education degree with special education and social-emotional learning minors at the University of Northern Iowa.

“I landed on education simply because of the need,” the West Des Moines native explained. “I also am someone who loves school. I'm a lifelong learner. So this felt like the better path for me. It’s a big part of who I am, and I feel like there are not enough advocates and people who are educated on the topic and willing to support those who need it.”

Grabinski is highly driven in her goal. She came to UNI having already completed her Level 1 field experience through a job shadow at her former elementary school. While the requirement for a Level 1 placement is 20 hours, Grabinski couldn’t get enough of her time in the classroom, spending 65 hours getting a glimpse into her future career.

“I fell in love with the teacher, and I fell in love with the students,” Grabinski said of her Level 1 placement. “I was like, ‘I want to be here. This is what I want to do.’”

When the time came to choose the college that would help her land her dream job, Grabinski chose UNI for a few reasons. Her older sister graduated from UNI and enjoyed her time. Coming from a large high school, Grabinski also sought a smaller and more intimate college experience. She liked the community that existed not only on the UNI campus but also in the Cedar Valley area.

CeCe Grabinski

Of course, the quality of UNI’s teaching program, which is in the top 1% of programs nationally, also played a crucial role.

“If you want to stay in the Midwest, you really can’t beat UNI’s program,” she said.

Grabinski is confident she made the right decision for her education. She’s involved in Alpha Delta Pi and is vice president for Teacher Education Ambassadors. She’s felt a sense of community attending athletics events and campus activities. Since academics are so important to her, she also enjoys the many workshops and conferences that are available to UNI students, often for free.

Her interactions with UNI faculty have been especially rewarding. Grabinski cites Amy NielsenAmy Sandvold and David Hernández-Saca as some of the most influential faculty during her UNI career. However, she says she would be hard-pressed to find a professor who hasn’t had some positive influence on her.

“Every faculty member I've met is in it for the students and because they love to teach,” she said. “The faculty here at UNI has been consistent, and that has kept me here. I feel like they care about student voice, and they care about accommodating and even connecting with you outside of school.”

Grabinski also appreciates the way she has been able to build on the foundation of classroom experience she came to UNI with.

“You can write lesson plans all day long and see it out on paper, but to see it applied in a real-world context with real students is invaluable,” she said. “I will have spent a total of five semesters at UNI in the classroom before I student teach. I've gotten to see a variety of things in different districts in different age ranges in gen ed and special ed settings. So it's really prepared me.”

Her experiences with students have led to some rewarding moments, like increasing one student’s interest in reading outside of school. Some of her favorite moments have nothing to do with academics, but rather witnessing her students’ social-emotional growth.

“I’ve seen a student who wouldn't talk to me or look me in the eyes be able to walk up to someone new and shake their hand and make eye contact and introduce himself,” she said. “That’s so cool to me because it's also increasing their life skills. That’s what I want to offer these students is to have as much independence as possible, and I want them to live life with as little assistance as possible.”

Grabinski hopes when she becomes a teacher she is able to create a classroom that is a safe space for all of her students. With the support she’s received at UNI and the hands-on experience she’s gotten, she’s off to a great start.

“I want my students to be able to learn, be supported, have their voice heard and also have fun,” she said. “Within special ed, sometimes it's easier said than done because each student requires such specific individualistic things. But it makes me even more motivated to create that for them, because in other areas of their life, it's already a challenge. I want school to be a place where they can come and know that it's dedicated to them, and my classroom is built for them.”