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Alumni and Friends Making an Impact

Vanessa Valadez

Family First

Vanessa Valadez ’20 remembers how hard her parents worked during her childhood. “They would always work on the weekends and try to find little jobs here and there, just for extra money.”

Her parents emigrated to the United States from Mexico in their early 20s, intent on giving their future children opportunities to succeed — and put in the effort to make it happen.

They squirreled away enough money to help their four children get bachelor degrees. Their two oldest sons are UD graduates, and their third child, Valadez, graduated from UD in spring of 2020 with a degree in Health Science. She is now in her pursuit of a Doctorate in Physical Therapy at UD. 

With all her parents had done for her and her older brothers, and with a younger brother on the cusp of college, Valadez did not expect them to assist her with her doctoral degree. She knew it would be expensive on her own, but pressed ahead. To her relief, scholarship support came through, and a bit of her burden was lifted.   

Donor gifts to the Dean’s Fund for Excellence helped enable the School of Education and Health Sciences to offer Valadez this support, pushing her closer to her dream of becoming a physical therapist who assists children with mobility issues. 

“I’ve always loved working with kids; I can easily communicate with them and they actually listen to me. And fitness is also a passion of mine, so physical therapy is a career where I can combine my love of fitness with my desire to help kids.”

Valadez is also thrilled to go into a field that is in dire need of diversification. “When I was job shadowing, I would see families from various backgrounds, and I feel like sometimes they would hold back because they didn’t know how to say something or they just didn’t feel comfortable. I think it’s really important to have more diversity in the field.”

Mary Fisher, chair and associate professor, Department of Physical Therapy, echoes Valadez’s sentiment. “Our profession is 84% white,” she said. “So, when diverse populations get physical therapy services, they rarely see anyone who looks like them. I’ve been a physical therapist for 30 years, and those demographics have been slow to change. They need to.”

The DPT scholarship Valadez received was created with this need for diversity in mind: merit-based, for domestic students who can expand representation in the PT profession. 

This award also provides much needed support for the 10-year old PT program. “We’re new in the scheme of UD. If you think about the age of our graduates, they’re still paying off debt ... they’ve got small kids. We don’t have major donors at this point,” Fisher said.

Valadez is the fourth student to receive the award and is truly appreciative. “It is going to keep my debt down, and that way I can help my parents faster. I am really grateful for the support they gave me as an undergrad, and I want to help them once I’ve established my career … to give back for everything they did for me.”

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Looking around campus, you would struggle to find a harder working first-year student than Odyssey Oehme. This semester she is taking 19 credit hours, while working two part-time jobs: 15 hours a week as a desk assistant on campus and 17 hours on the weekends as a dietary aid at a local nursing home. Supporting herself while in school is a necessity, but nevertheless a daunting task — especially when large expenses hit.
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