A Change of Heart—and Career

By her own account, Stef Ohnemus is not one to change her mind. She applied to just one university—Boston College—and was dead set on business school, wearing a suit every day and thriving in the boardroom. But then she discovered the PULSE Program for Service Learning.

Combining theory, philosophy, and volunteerism, PULSE places students in direct contact with marginalized populations and social change organizations across Boston. As a Minnesota country girl, Stef was terrified of taking the T, but when she found out PULSE had an opening at the Campus School, she leapt at the opportunity.

Stef Ohnemus and a Campus School Student

IT ALL STARTED WITH A FORK

It was her first experience working with individuals with severe special needs—and it completely shifted her perspective. In her sophomore year, she was struggling with her roommate, unenthused about classes, and unsure about her direction. Meanwhile, at the Campus School, she was working closely with one student whose goal was to hold her fork during lunch.

Suddenly, Stef had a new outlook. Developing relationships with individuals whose every smile and lift of the head requires effort, Stef realized how much she had to be grateful for.  

“Whenever I was having tough times, I would think of that student holding that fork,” she said. “It gave me a different perspective: How lucky am I to have the abilities to make my own choices and learn and grow as an individual?”

FROM THE BOARDROOM TO THE CLASSROOM

Stef immediately called her parents and told them she was going to become a teacher.

She transferred from the business school to the Lynch School of Education. In her junior year, she conducted work study at the Campus School, and as a senior she helmed the Buddy Committee. After earning her undergraduate degree in elementary education, she earned her master’s in severe special education at Boston College and now works as a teacher at the Campus School.

As an advocate for the Campus School and special education community, Stef likes to emphasize to others what the students can do. “It’s not about me—it’s about showcasing that these students have a lot to offer.”