Volunteer Spotlight: Jan Ormasa



Q. What is your favorite experience as an Alumni Association volunteer?

A. Create. Engage. Connect. These words capture the spirit of serving on the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) Alumni Society Board. Having deep, meaningful conversations with board members and alumni is inspirational to me as colleagues share stories about their personal journeys. I so value connecting and building strong relationships, and my ties to CEHD has led me to friendships with people I would not have otherwise had the opportunity to meet.

For example, a Japanese graduate student served on our board while he was working on his dissertation. We discovered common ground through our knowledge and expertise about global relationships, our career pathways, and our commitments to serving students in our countries through education, counseling and support. It was an honor to meet his parents and aunt at his doctorate graduation, and together, we discovered values and beliefs about our families that unify us globally.
In another instance, I returned to Quito, Ecuador for my 50th high school reunion from Colegio Americano. It was an amazing trip to reconnect with former colleagues. In the process, I met another colleague’s friend who had just completed her Fulbright – at none other place than the University of Minnesota CEHD. We talked at length about her teaching of indigenous cultures and languages in Ecuador to University of Minnesota students. Slowly we figured out a faculty member with whom we both had relationships, and she asked me if I would bring a gift to this faculty member. We both laughed and expressed joy at this common bond.

I also want to share my deep passion for serving on the CEHD Women’s Philanthropic Leadership Circle (WPLC), which has the mission is to support graduate student and faculty women leaders. I serve on the Scholarship Selection Committee that determines the award recipients from our giving circle. I am continuously inspired, amazed, and honored to support these young women in their passions and commitments to build stronger and better communities locally, nationally and globally. It is absolute joy to honor them with scholarships and to hear their personal stories of courage, perseverance, and dedication to service.

Q. Why do you volunteer?

A. My father worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development and I lived overseas, mostly in South America and Turkey, from ages 3-17. I started volunteering in an orphanage in Quito, Ecuador when I was in junior high school. I learned early on the importance of building strong relationships and connections.

I always believed that serving others builds these bonds and commitments, and that volunteering is servant-leadership. I love being an ambassador for the University and CEHD because I see education as a vehicle out of poverty. My mother could not afford to go to college and my father, coming from an immigrant family, always expressed that going to college provided pathways for him to move into the middle class.

I welcome opportunities to share about creating possibilities at the University and in the CEHD alumni community. I am so proud of how the college is attracting strong students into education and related services. I enjoy working with my legislators to advocate for the fiscal resources so necessary to attract and support all students. Being able to serve in multiple positions on the CEHD Alumni Society Board and WPLC has offered me opportunities to support students and women leaders in pursuing their passions through scholarship support.

Finally, I am curious about the research that students faculty pursue to support learning in special education and related services such as social work, family social science, educational psychology and child development. As a retired director of special education, I always wished that I had built a stronger connection with CEHD faculty and researchers to bring the research into our district classrooms and to provide bridges for communication about what the fields needed to support and educate students with disabilities. Now I engage in conversations with specialists in the fields to pass on the research occurring within CEHD and to promote our ranking as a top education school.

Q. Why would you encourage others to volunteer?

A. I agree with Richard Gunderman that through volunteering, “We Come to Life with Those We Serve”. He argues we are most enriched not in taking from others but in sharing the best we have to offer through a life of service. This is such an intriguing idea about these times and how we build our communities through giving in all different ways.

It is a deepening of our connections and relationships with one another. It is a strengthening of our values for community and supporting higher education. It is passion and curiosity and engagement in something bigger than us. It is sharing, understanding, seeking, pondering, reflecting, honoring, supporting, and advocating.

Q. Share some alumni words of wisdom
A. It is in the giving that one receives. Engage. Connect. Create. Explore the possibilities, as there is such excitement, passion, fun, spirit, and creativity. One never knows how great or small will be the connection, but it is deeply purposeful.

More about Jan
From ages 3 to 17, I lived in South America and Turkey. The book “Third Culture Kids” best describes me. My parents believed in service and building relationships. In 1967, I attended Syracuse University, where I pursued psychology, sociology, and anthropology, and volunteered in inclusive classrooms with students with disabilities. Coming to University of Minnesota confirmed my commitment to serving students with disabilities within inclusive communities. In 1974, I graduated with a master’s degree in Educational Psychology and licensure for working with students with emotional and behavioral challenges. Later in 1990 I graduated with a Specialist Certificate and multiple administrative licensures. For almost 40 years, I served the Hopkins Public Schools in multiple positions, cumulating as the Director of Special Services advocating for educational and social services. Seeking research and effective interventions, I connected with University of Minnesota to participate in educational policy and research dissemination.

In 1982, my son was born with severe and multiple disabilities, thus catapulting me into advocacy with the Minnesota state legislature and social service agencies. Subsequently, I served on multiple governor’s councils as a parent with a child with disabilities. I valued the opportunity to engage in service aimed at helping families like mine.

I was recognized for my career accomplishments with a CEHD Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011 and for my contributions to the University with an Alumni Service Award in 2017.

It has been a privilege and an honor to serve in multiple leadership positions with the CEHD Alumni Society Board and Women’s Philanthropic Leadership Circle. In addition, connecting with colleagues on the UMAA Collegiate Council has been inspirational as we all seek to build strong bonds, service, and community connections.

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