Being a college student today is an endeavor all on its own, especially given hurdles in our personal lives. One UCCS student will graduate this semester after working toward her master’s degree in social work as a full-time student while being an immigrant, military spouse and mother of two boys one of whom has special needs. Gloria Ogbuji’s tenacity should serve as inspiration for other college students.
Her story is truly unique but relatable to students who may face adversity outside of the classroom. While being a mother of two boys, caretaker, a military spouse and student could be seen as full-time commitments all on their own, Ogbuji is managing to succeed in these different areas simultaneously.
“I am a citizen of the United States of America who is originally from Nigeria, a mother of two boys, a military spouse and a student of UCCS graduating with my master’s in social work on May 13. Coming here as an immigrant and trying to achieve ‘the American dream’ has been very challenging because as an immigrant, which is also the story of most immigrants, you start all over again regardless of your status and the qualifications you may have acquired from your country of origin,” Ogbuji said.
“For most immigrants, the American dream is like an endless journey on an unknown road and unknown destination and outcome because your life and everything about you becomes a baby step — starts from the scratch.” She said.
One of Ogbuji’s journeys is motherhood. “I came here to join my husband and one year after I got here, we had our first child. On his first birthday, we realized that he was not a ‘typical child.’ As young parents, we did not understand what it meant to have a child with autism and what lied ahead. Realizing our situation, it was now a matter of how we could navigate our lives and plans around having a child with special needs and achieving the American dream.
“That was when I and my husband made the decision for me to stay home and care for our son so he could continue with his Military service. It turned out to be the best decision because it gave me the opportunity to understand and broaden my horizon about our situation (autism). Ever since, it has been a very challenging journey.” Ogbuji said.
According to Ogbuji, these circumstances have introduced challenges especially caring for a child with severe autism. Autism spectrum disorder is a very complex medical condition that manifests in different forms. It affects families and individuals on the spectrum differently. “Mine is a child with very severe developmental delays, lacking self-awareness and nonverbal with behavioral issues related to his needs, all of which require me to care for him all the time. Meanwhile, my husband is mostly gone on multiple deployments. Sometimes it’s like being a single mom; it’s really challenging,” she said.
Despite familial obstacles, Ogbuji wanted to stay close to her philosophy of being caring and empathetic to not only her loved ones, but to the rest of the world as well. As such, Ogbuji continued her education at UCCS for her master’s degree in social work the same year after she graduated with bachelor’s degree in sociology to project her ideas and beliefs of care and empathy.
“I really want a platform where I can empower and inspire other women and families, and I see my degree as a prelude to that platform. I’m a very caring person to the core who believes in unconditional love for people. I have seen what other women go through,” Ogbuji said.
Ogbuji also hopes to expand autism awareness. She believes certain stigmas around autism can be harmful and believes it needs to be talked about more.
“I just want people to know about autism [and] to know that autism is not something that is done by parents or is anybody else’s fault. All you need to do is just show them that unconditional love; that love that is free of judgment. that [love that] doesn’t subject them to self-guilt, because that is what I have realized so many parents have been going through,” Ogbuji said.
“I always try to see the good regardless of how dark or how difficult it may look. I always try to foresee light at the end of every tunnel regardless of how gloomy it may seem at the moment. My desire, hope and prayer [is], that parents will be able to see that there is always hope regardless of how hopeless it may seem. There is that light that can shine through and help you figure it out. It may look so dark, but some way, somehow, one day, the light shines,” she said.
For these reasons, she decided to enter the field of social work, to help people who are “less blessed” than she is.
“I am blessed. I’m not a millionaire, but I’m surviving. I can say I’m blessed [because] if I and family are hungry, we [have] food to eat. If we need clothes, we can afford them; if we are sick, we get medical care because we have health insurance. All these I see as blessings because there are people that can’t afford them and there are even homeless people/parents with special need kids who can’t afford three square meals a day not to talk of health insurance. I chose this field so I can be a voice for those without a voice. In this world, [there] will always be a need for validation, and social work is like validation for me,” she said.
After receiving her degree, Ogbuji will continue to care for her family, but also find a job that allows her to help those in need, educate people about autism and the challenges associated with it and help families of individual with autism find their voice.
“If I’m going to get a job, my job will be something that will afford me the opportunity to hear and listen to people, learn about their challenges, and assist them with available resources based on their presenting needs and areas they desire to work on. Social work is all about empowerment, justice, advocacy, equality, devotion to the community we serve, and impact.
“I would like to make an impact and assist my community in any way I know how because if we can be of help to one another, the world would be a much better place to live. If we can learn how to not get irritated so easily when working with individuals who are atypical, the world would be a better place,” she said. “Autism/disabilities and poverty are not a crime.”
Ogbuji, among others in upper education, deals with challenging circumstances outside of the classroom, but her relentless dedication may serve as inspiration to students, spouses and caretakers alike.