BVU Graduate Student Shares Thanks for Rich Educational Journey

A determination to be the best teacher she can be directed Storm Lake Middle School educator to BVU's Master of Education programming. Sandra Duque graduates in December.

This week of Thanksgiving, Sandra Duque reflects on her place in life, and that of her family. They’re all here in Storm Lake, their residence for 20 years.

“In September 2000, we came to Storm Lake seeking better opportunities, both for work and in the way in which Patricio and I could raise our sons. It was the best decision we ever made,” she says.

Patricio works as a truck driver. Sandra is an ELL (English Language Learner) teacher at Storm Lake Middle School. Sons Ronnie and Kevin attend the University of Iowa and Wartburg College, respectively, both intent on following their mother to graduate school once they’ve earned their bachelor’s degrees.

Sandra Duque is about to conclude her master’s degree. She’ll graduate in December with a Master of Education from Buena Vista University with an emphasis in teaching English as a second language (TESL).

“I have known Sandra for many years and I am truly inspired by her and how hard she has worked to obtain her degrees. She is someone who makes the world a brighter and better place by who she is.”

Jean Bral, Vice President of Extended University Programs

“I set myself as an example for my sons and my students,” says Duque, who was born and raised in El Salvador. “I came to the US as a 26-year-old who didn’t speak or hear English well enough to hold a conversation. It is difficult to learn a new language at that age.”

It’s also challenging to navigate a new culture while raising children, making ends meet in a state like California, where the cost of living can sometimes prove challenging.

“We lived in California for two years, then moved to Storm Lake,” she says. “And Storm Lake is where you have opportunities for people who wish to work hard. Storm Lake is where you have the best education for children and adults who want to keep learning.”

Duque, who graduated from high school in her home country, studied accounting at the collegiate level in El Salvador. She returned to school in the mid-2000s and earned a degree from William Penn College, summa cum laude. Two years ago, she enrolled in BVU’s Master of Education—teacher leadership, curriculum, and instruction (TLCI) program with a TESL emphasis.

“I began working as a teacher’s assistant at Storm Lake Middle School several years ago and found out how much I enjoyed working with students,” she says. “I realized I wanted to teach for the rest of my life.”

A master’s in teaching English as a second language builds upon her bachelor’s in K-12 ELL, with a K-8 reading endorsement.

“I wanted to get a master’s to show my belief in education,” she says. “I constantly feel like I should get better at what I’m doing. I need to be the most knowledgeable and prepared for my students.”

In summary, she likes to learn.

She also likes the convenient and open approach offered by BVU professors in the graduate program, an area of the University that has shattered enrollment records in recent years. Duque, after all, is one of 407 graduate students currently taking BVU classes. That figure easily tops the previous record of 337 BVU graduate students set just one year ago.

Sandra Duque, BVU graduate student, with her family.
Sandra Duque is joined by her sons, from left, Kevin, Ronnie, and husband, Patricio. Sandra and Patricio Duque came from El Salvador to the United States some 22 years ago.

“I love that our programs at BVU can meet the needs of our local community members which, in turn, impacts the students in our schools,” says Jean Bral, BVU Vice President of Extended University Programs. “I have known Sandra for many years and I am truly inspired by her and how hard she has worked to obtain her degrees. She is someone who makes the world a brighter and better place by who she is, a true example of how a person can change their life with hard work and determination and make their dreams come true.”

Duque, who also sees advanced coursework as an investment in herself as well as her community, notes that, “BVU is very affordable. BVU is also very flexible. For the past two years, I’ve devoted afternoons after school and Saturdays to my graduate classes. The professors are extremely supportive, helping any time you ask.”

Duque will take the last Saturday of the month off this week as both sons return home for Mom’s Thanksgiving feast; chicken and salsa with rice and vegetables, cheesecake and pumpkin pie. She’ll return to her routine in early December, finishing a research paper in advance of her graduation on Dec. 21.
That day, the shortest in terms of daylight, represents the culmination of a long and rewarding journey for this BVU student. The day also marks the family’s next celebration.

“We will have a party to celebrate my hard work,” she says with a smile. “My mother, my husband, and my two sons will be there with me. Without their support, I wouldn’t have accomplished this.”

Mrs. Duque, as her students call her, plans to take her diploma into her Storm Lake Middle School classroom. She’ll display it in hopes of touching off a conversation with her seventh-graders. 

“I won’t brag,” she promises. “Instead, I’ll show my students that with hard work and dedication in this great country, you can accomplish whatever goal you set.”

She dabs at a tear in her eye and confidently puts it another way: “I’ll tell them, ‘If I can do it, you can do it!’”