Katie Contreras-Flores

What helped me reach this point in my career was the constant encouragement, the constant feedback and the direction that I received from my teachers at Waubonsee.

At Waubonsee, students can be surprised by which class might be the spark that ignites their future career. That was certainly the case for Katie Flores, who started at Waubonsee in 2010.

After beginning her general coursework and taking a year off, Katie was struggling with what direction she wanted to go and felt a lack of interest in her studies. It was Carla Diaz, a faculty member in the Early Childhood program, who noticed Katie struggling and asked her what interested her.

“I like working with kids,” Katie replied.

It was Carla’s intervention, and the subsequent support of the entire Early Childhood program, that put Katie on the path to where she is today. At Waubonsee, Katie found mentors who were not afraid to push her to reach her potential.

“Carla was very instrumental in guiding me toward where I am today,” Katie said. “Though she was very nice, she was very direct too, and she didn’t sugarcoat anything for me. That was the day that marked the beginning of my education and career in early childhood. So, I have her to thank for that.”

In one of her first classes in the Early Childhood program, Katie’s professor, Linda O’Connell-Knuth, introduced herself. Along with her biographical information, O’Connell-Knuth described herself as a life-long learner, a phrase that stuck with Katie, and inspired her to take steps in her education that she never thought possible.

In 2015, Katie earned an Associate in Science in Early Childhood Education from Waubonsee. Following graduation, Katie transferred to Aurora University, where she specialized in disability studies and graduated in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in Disability Studies. Even after she began working in her field, she always felt that call to be a life-long learner.

In January 2019, she enrolled at National Louis University, working for her teaching license and an LBS1 certificate. She graduated in June 2022 with a Master of Arts in Special Education. Now, she is working with three and four-year-olds at the Aurora Early Learning Center, some of whom have special needs.

“I never would have imagined that I would have reached this level of my education,” Katie said. “What helped me reach this point was the constant encouragement, the constant feedback, the direction that I was receiving from my teachers at Waubonsee.”

Katie describes early education as a very rewarding career and hopes more students will take advantage of the program at Waubonsee. Individuals who share a similar passion for guiding young learners can receive financial support at Waubonsee through a federal grant from the Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity (ECACE). The grant provides access to higher education by removing financial barriers for students interested in continuing or pursuing a career in early childhood education.

“I feel like everything I know about early childhood and everything I’ve come to experience was thanks to Waubonsee,” Katie said. “Not only do you get the instruction, but when you have teachers like the ones I had, who sit with you and make classes so enriching, there’s no way you can leave the program unsure of what you have learned.”

Anyone who has worked, or is currently working, in early childhood education and is interested in also following Katie’s pursuit of life-long learning by earning additional credentials at Waubonsee can benefit from the ECACE grant.

Students interested in learning more about the Waubonsee Early Childhood Education program and scholarship opportunities are encouraged to contact Anna Halvax at ahalvax@waubonsee.edu or (630) 906-4231. To learn more about the ECACE Scholarship and to apply, students can also visit: isac.org/ECACEscholarship.