12:00 PM

Student Speaker Shares Advice On Navigating Path to Graduation

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

Leia Baez’s Bellevue University degree has already started paying dividends. The student speaker at the Winter Commencement ceremony will graduate with a Master’s of Public Administration (MPA) and is currently the Public Information Officer for Douglas County. She landed the position just six months into her MPA program.

 “The fact that I was pursuing my MPA and was interested in government operations was impressive to the hiring committee. I absolutely love my career as a Public Information Officer and I hope to continue to grow in this position,” Baez said.

LeiaBaezheadshot2017Baez’s role with Douglas County includes serving as a media spokesperson, writing press releases, arranging press conferences and interviews, and managing social media platforms.

“I love that my job allows me to serve the public and the taxpayers of Douglas County, providing them important information that pertains to the community they live in,” she said. “As a journalist for 14 years, I also enjoy that I get to combine my passion for writing and interest in government operations into one career.”

Baez will call upon some of those skills when she addresses her fellow graduates on Saturday, Jan. 27 at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs.

“I hope my story inspires my fellow graduates to never give up -- even during the most difficult times in life. My message is focused on embracing the challenges, setbacks and failures in our lives because they force us to grow and teach us the most about who we are.”

After graduating from Bellevue West High School, Baez earned her bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and worked as a Deputy Online Editor at the Omaha World-Herald. Bellevue University’s online classes appealed to her as she considered options for pursing a graduate degree.

“That was a huge draw for me as a full-time journalist and a mother. It meant a lot of late nights studying, but the flexibility was key. Pursuing my MPA at Bellevue didn’t take away my time as a mom or an employee,” she said. “I also had many friends receive both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Bellevue so I always knew about the opportunities there.”

Baez's family served as a support system as well as a source of motivation, especially her six-year old daughter, Estella, as she pursued her degree.

“My family is my rock. I can always count on my parents and my brother and sister-in-law to encourage me to never give up on my goals,” she said. “They would also step in to help with my daughter whenever I needed additional time to meet up with classmates or write papers and study. But my daughter is the real reason I am so driven. I want her to see firsthand that we can accomplish anything we put our minds to. I want her to know that the opportunities in front of her are endless.”

Baez and her fellow graduates will be hitting a significant milestone when they walk across the stage during commencement, and she has three tips for those considering taking those first steps down the same path.

  1. Surround yourself with supportive people: Baez credits her family for lending a hand and for pushing her toward her end goal of graduation.
  2. Get to know your professors and classmates: She encourages students to make a point of meeting some classmates and professors in person, if possible, and believes those interactions help build better relationships and can help with career networking.
  3. Don’t give up: Grad school is not easy, Baez said, but she recommends that students lean into the coursework.

“I am grateful to have learned a lot about public policy and leadership,” she said, “which I use on a daily basis in my career.”