“Where you invest your love, you invest your life" - Mumford & Sons
I just want to be you is the phrase that Laura Gardocki would frequently utter to special education teachers in her elementary school years. "I've wanted to be a special education teacher all my life," states the smiling Gardocki, her eyes shining as she describes her lifelong ambition. "Special education teachers inspire me with their caring, their openness, and accepting ways. And I've always been drawn to kids with special needs."
Laura Gardocki integrates high levels of achievement with service as a UNH junior in the Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) Department. CSD majors typically go on to graduate work and become speech-language pathologists or audiologists, but Laura is choosing a somewhat different path. She is working with TRiO Student Support Services to prepare for the GRE exam and will soon be applying to the Master's degree program in Special Education at UNH. "In high school I met with Professor Georgia Kerns, who recommended the CSD major as a solid background for my goals. My main reason for choosing UNH was the graduate program in Special Education," she recalls. "I was always impressed with the Education interns at Londonderry and was eager to learn sign language. And I liked the idea of being close to home!"
Laura is a graduate of Londonderry (NH) High School where she made her mark as well. She graduated in the top ten percent of her class, practiced karate since the age of three (she's now a fourth degree black belt), tutored classmates with learning difficulties, and played saxophone in the famed Londonderry Lancer Marching Band. "We had the honor of marching in the Presidential Inaugural Parade in Washington, DC in 2008, and traveled to China to perform in a pre-Olympics youth festival another time," recalled Laura. She has been a frequent member of the UNH Pep Band, claiming a broad love of music with a special affinity for playing classical and jazz, and, of course, the enduring pop tunes that the pep band plays at hockey and basketball games. "Music inspires me," says Laura, "it's a central and spiritual part of my life."
Laura also claims that school comes easily to her. When asked about her motivation to succeed, she responds with "I just want to do well." Her academic motivation and desire have turned into results at UNH as she has a nearly perfect academic record. Laura was nominated for Create Your Own Story by Assistant Professor Bryan Ness in Communication Sciences and Disorders, who stated that (Laura) has raised the bar for student excellence in our program both by her academic achievements and involvement in campus and community activities. She has completed the entire American Sign Language (ASL) sequence, as well as serving as a teaching assistant for entry-level ASL courses. She has carried these skills out to her volunteer work at Somersworth Youth Safe Haven. "There's a woman who is Deaf living there who just wanted to be a part of the community," says Laura, who helps this woman teach ASL to young kids living in a low income housing community.
A life-changing event occurred for Laura as a junior in high school when she was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes. "It was a huge disruption in my junior year of high school," Laura recalls. "I was really sick for about two months. I had no energy at all, and was taking five water bottles to school every day and still feeling dehydrated. I lost 12 lbs, and didn't even know it!" Laura did some research on her own and was not surprised when a physician's diagnosis was finally made. Like a true educator, Laura turned a medical disability into an opportunity to teach others. "Type I Diabetes is very different from Type II Diabetes," Laura states. "The causes are different, the symptoms are different, and the treatments are different. It's all very confusing that these different conditions share a common name. Of the 30 million people in the U.S. with diabetes, less than 10% have the Type I version."
As Laura contemplates her next steps in pursuing graduate work and professional preparation as a special educator, she names her parents as key role models and mentors in her life journey. "They'll do anything to support my brother and me, they don't ever take a break," Laura proudly proclaims. Her parents own a landscape construction company, and met while they were both at UNH. "My dad even has a special license plate for the year that he graduated, UNH-80!" UNH is a full family affair for the Gardocki's as dad, Bill, met mom, Gail, (class of 1981), and was followed by brother, Tom (class of 2009.)
Laura Gardocki has created her own story through a generous spirit, enduring professional goals, and excellence in academic worlds, but her most striking trait might be her contagiously positive personality. She reflects for a minute on an explanation for her obvious ebullience, and says simply, "I'm just a happy person. It's just who I am!"
2012 - 2013 CYOS Honorees: (left to right) Brittany Zorn, Laura Gardocki, Peter Callahan, Merhawi Wells-Bogue, Molly Hunt, Larry Rackliff, Lauren Banker, Ben Claxton, Alex Freid, Jihyon Im