UNI professor aims to make a life long impact on his students

Maddie Inman, Guest Columnist

 For six years, Dr. David Hernandez-Saca has been maintaining an inclusive and positive environment throughout his classroom. This may appear as ordinary, but Hernandez-Saca does this for other reasons. He does this by lecturing about topics that are not often covered in classes. These topics include justice, democracy in education, and inclusion. 

“I believe that every student should feel comfortable when in my classroom,” said Hernandez-Saca. He mentioned that teachers he has had in the past made their classrooms more welcoming, which made him love learning; he believes this is something that every professor should do. 

During his six years at the University of Northern Iowa, he has taught Educational & Post-School Transition Programming for Individuals with Disabilities and Introduction to Special Education: Legal, Advocacy, and Assistive Technology Practices & Issues.

Hernandez-Saca connects to past equity concerns in general and special education, as well as present inclusive education initiatives at the intersections of traditional special education and disability studies in education. 

Another thing that sets Hernandez-Saca apart from other professors at UNI, is that he immigrated to the United States. He was born in El Salvador and came to the U.S. when he was just two years old. Hernandez-Saca first ended up in Arizona, he then moved to Los Angeles when he was three years old and attended elementary school there. He stayed in the area until it was time to attend college.

After years passed, he attended college at University of California, Berkeley. There he studied history, with a concentration in race-relations and minored in education, with a concentration in equity and participatory research. He graduated with his bachelor’s degree in 2005.

Hernandez-Saca attended UC Berkeley immediately after graduating with his bachelors, to get a masters degree in education. He graduated from Berkeley in 2009. Seven years later, he graduated from the University of Arizona with a doctorate in philosophy. 

Upon graduation, Hernandez-Saca applied to eight different schools; the University of Northern Iowa being one of them. UNI was the first school to offer him an interview and he eagerly accepted the teaching position once it was offered.

Hernandez-Saca’s decision to teach was not only based on his major throughout his college career. He often thinks about one of his elementary school teachers, Mrs. Ritchie. “Mrs. Ritchie was my English teacher and she was very passionate about her students,” said Hernandez-Saca. He explained that she is the reason he fell in love with reading and writing.

Along with his love for reading and writing, Hernandez-Saca assisted with the “Made to Teach” workshops at the university, where he spoke about inclusion itself, inclusive classrooms, and justice & democracy in education to prospective students. This event is open to high school and transfer students.

Hernandez-Saca loves seeing how the students are eager to learn and says he will remember their high spirits. “These students are the reason I love teaching. This is my motivation to wake up and go to work,” says Hernandez-Saca. 

On top of the passion he’s teaching with already, there is another reason why Hernandez-Saca is very eager to teach. He is passionate about teaching special education in particular, because he was in special education classes when he was younger. This is another way his teacher Mrs. Ritchie inspired him.

When Hernandez-Saca was in elementary school, his teacher Mrs. Ritchie was his English teacher, as well as his special education teacher. He knew that he wanted to help other students that he was once in the same situation as. Hernandez-Saca has an auditory impairment, but he does not let that stop him from learning more each day and positively changing the lives of his students. 

“I want to be my student’s Mrs. Ritchie,” said Hernandez-Saca. Mrs. Ritchie made such a big impact on his life, that it influenced his career path. Hernandez-Saca’s students now have Mrs. Ritchie to thank, as Hernandez-Saca is one of the professors that students love having when enrolled in the College of Education at the University of Northern Iowa.