Christy Hegebush, who earned a Master of Legal Studies in 2012, has been a special education teacher for 12 years and currently teaches moderately and mentally delayed children in the 1st and 4th grades. Despite her past successes, she believed that enhancing her career with a degree in legal studies would make her a more effective advocate for children.
"I picked the M.L.S. program because I want to be able to help parents and students as they go through the special education process," said Hegebush, 35. "I'm a single mom of two amazing girls. Being a teacher, I am able to see how hard it is for schools and parents to meet the needs of every child. I wanted to make this process as easy as possible and help schools and parents work together as a team."
Hegebush earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education and special education from Northern Arizona University in 2000. She chose the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law because of its location and reputation.
"This program was one that gave me the most options as to flexibility of future careers, yet it was still in an area I really enjoy," Hegebush said. "I felt welcomed and valued by the professors of the university. I felt that my thoughts and opinions were valued among fellow students both in the M.L.S. program as well as the J.D. program."
Hegebush said her favorite part of the program has been taking classes that she originally thought were not directly related to her future plans and finding out how much they, in fact, relate.
"You can make the program fit within your specific area of interest, but also explore other legal areas that interest you," she said, nothing that, in addition to courses regarding legal rights in the workplace, she also took a class on Indian Law, because some of the children with whom she works live on reservations.
More than anything, Hegebush said, the M.L.S. program gave her a more thorough understanding and appreciation of the legal nuances of special education and advocacy for children's rights - particularly with respect to Individualized Education Programs.
"An IEP is essentially a legal document," Hegebush said. "My M.LS. courses not only helped me gain a better of understanding of the legalities and the details behind this, but also helped me enable parents to get the best services possible for their kids."
Hegebush took to the M.L.S. program so well that she graduated with a 4.0. "I got so much more out of the program than I ever thought I would," she said.