Jordan Sien struggled to have a relationship with her older brother. When they were young, she didn’t know how to talk to him. But now that they’re both adults, he’s the inspiration for the CU Denver student’s career aspirations.
Sien’s brother has autism, and with her special education major, she wants to help students like him.
“We need to set kids like my brother up for adulthood,” said Sien, who plans to graduate in December from CU Denver’s School of Education & Human Development (SEHD).
Sharing a love
As Sien and her brother grew older, she learned how to be more patient when talking to him and how to connect with him through things they both love, like music. A Maryland native, she first fell in love with Colorado during a show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and her brother can “play the drums like he’s in AC/DC.”
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When she was in high school, Sien struggled with selecting a career path because of her own learning disability.
“I can’t do simple addition in my head,” she said, “and all the careers I was interested in required me to be good at math.”
Then, she realized she was good at working with her brother. She began participating in a teacher academy program and got internships with students with special needs.
“Teaching came very naturally to me, and I realized this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing,” she said.
Teaching with perspective
Sien just completed a practicum at Carmody Middle School in Jefferson County, and this fall, she has an internship at Arvada High School.
“It’s been a really rich experience,” she said of being a student in SEHD’s Special Education program. “I like the fact that there’s a diverse population, both in the student body and the population that I teach. And the professors are so supportive and contribute so much to the educator that you become.”
Much of her work has focused on helping students plan for life and a career after graduation—the type of transition support that her brother never received.
“My brother has regressed in some ways and is nearer to the nonverbal end of the spectrum now,” she said. “Watching him go through that put things in perspective of what I can do for other kids.”
Setting big goals
Sien has dreams of starting a summer camp for kids with autism. She envisions the camp offering horse therapy, water therapy, hyperbaric oxygen and, most importantly, scholarships for 20 percent of campers. She has already thought through how she’ll make the camp a reality through nonprofit grant funding, and she has built a professional foundation for herself through CU Denver’s Student Council for Exceptional Children.
“It’s a big goal,” said Sien, who is working this summer as a counselor at a kids adventure and wildlife camp in Highlands Ranch. “But without big goals, how are you going to get anywhere?”
And that’s not even her biggest goal.
“My end-all, be-all goal is to change the perception of kids with special needs,” she said. “People feel like they can’t do things, but if you give them a chance to conquer their world, I guarantee you they can do it.”