Theresa Just


Portland State University Graduate School of Education, Class of 2016

Special Education

Why did you choose your major?

I wanted to explore best practices in advocating for the most impacted students in public education while supporting families and general education teachers.

 How do you think being a first generation student affected your college experience?

It opened my eyes to how much support students of color and “alternative” students require. The university system is still geared toward the white upper middle class.


What do/did you love about PSU?

Portland State University’s special education program is small and the professors really want you to succeed. Seven years later, I’ve been asked four time to mentor student teachers in the special education program at PSU.

Were there any people along your collegiate journey that made a special impact on you? How?

My professors at Portland State (Dr. Pinkney, Dr. Borgmeier, Dr. Esparza-Brown and Dr. Sanford) really worked with me to understand best practices for special education. They worked with me at all hours of the day (and night!) and impressed upon me the significance of how important (in terms of legal and advocacy aspects) special education services are on individuals, families, and general education teachers.

How did you adjust to life post-graduation?

During student teaching, I was offered a job in North Clackamas School District. I’ve been a learning specialist since graduation (2014). In that time, I’ve been awarded teacher of the month, been identified as a teacher leader, and have served on district committees including Multi-tiered Systems of Support as well as equity. I’m a member of our district Affinity Group for Educators of Color. I’m a coordinating body member of the Multnomah-Clackamas Regional Educators Network focusing on recruitment and retention of educators of color within the state of Oregon. I’ve also hosted four student teachers from the special education program at PSU.

What have you been doing since graduation?

I’ll be starting my 7th year as a learning specialist for North Clackamas School District. I’ve served on several committees in the district including the leadership group for teachers of color. I’ve also raised two semi-adult children who are in college. I spend a ton of time hiking around Oregon to alleviate stress 🙂

If you have ever attended our scholarship brunches, how did those go for you?

I was invited and attended one. I was in awe of how many students came from nontraditional backgrounds (many often difficult) and were able to attend college because of the scholarships.

What does it mean to you to have been chosen as a Renaissance Scholar?

I can’t thank the foundation enough for taking a chance on a 43-year-old nontraditional woman of color who was recently laid off from her instructional assistant job in a school district who thought she might fancy herself a teacher.