ORLANDO, Fla. — When Kim Hardiman first realized she needed to go back to school, she resisted. She already possessed bachelor’s and master’s degrees plus years of teaching experience on her resume.
Now with graduation day in sight and a second master’s degree under her belt, she views her decision to come to UCF as a blessing.
“As an older teacher, you think you know it all and you don’t,” she said. “The teachers here at UCF are the best I’ve ever had in my life. I value this master’s degree more than the first one I got.”
Hardiman was born in Hong Kong and was an orphan for the first five years of her life until a couple from New York adopted her. She said she was lucky that her parents wanted an older child.
“Most children in the orphanage, they end up working in the factories,” she said. “I was very blessed. Every adversity [I faced], there was a twist or a turn that something good happened over it.”
Her upbringing in New York introduced her to people from all cultures and backgrounds. As she got older and started traveling overseas to places like the Middle East, Thailand, South America and Europe, she grew to love those cultures even more.
“I just realized there is so much to learn. It’s not just from the textbook,” she said. “When you’re in another country and speaking to someone in another language, it comes alive.”
Sept. 11, 2001, changed things for her. She used to ride the subway into the World Trade Center frequently and said she was supposed to perform a dance there the day of the attack. She didn’t feel well that morning and decided not to go.
The galleries that displayed her artwork shut down while the city began rebuilding. She felt she needed a change and eventually moved to Florida.
Her passion for interacting with the international community prompted her to return to school to pursue teaching. She completed her Teaching English as a Foreign Language graduate certificate at UCF in 2005 before spending the next decade at Embry Riddle Language Institute. She also served as Embry Riddle’s Asian Student Union advisor.
When teaching requirements changed, Hardiman needed to earn a second master’s degree if she wanted to continue her career. So she returned to UCF 11 years after earning her original certificate.
She juggled three classes a semester while also teaching two courses as a graduate assistant. Although she said it was a lot to handle, she excelled and was selected as the 2016 Sunshine State Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) of Florida Outstanding Educator Award.
“I value what I do with my education because now I can help other people. I want to ignite the passion [in them] to go back to school. Don’t ever say no to education,” she said. “That’s my message as an alumni. Take the risk. Try something new. Try a class you don’t know. Even work with teachers you hate because you learn the most from the teachers you had the hardest time with.”
An alumna’s traumatic past hasn’t kept her from pursuing her dreams
Sarah Sacra, ’13 | Graduate Student, UCF
By Angie Lewis, ’03
Sarah Sacra, ’13, has always been intrigued by human behavior, so she didn’t have to give much thought to her undergraduate major: psychology.
“I enjoyed when friends came to me to tell me something — picking up on their body language and how they spoke, in combination with their personalities. It was very interesting,” she says.
At age 23, Sacra already has an impressive resume, which includes a 4.0 GPA, working as a teaching assistant for several UCF professors, participating in faculty research, being published, giving more than a half dozen presentations, racking up countless awards, being part of numerous honor societies and professional groups, and volunteering from the time she was a teen.
Her ambitions continue as she pursues her UCF master’s degree in applied sociology, with a criminology/deviance specialization. After graduating in August 2015, she plans to keep going, to earn her third UCF degree — a doctorate in sociology.
“My ultimate goal in my professional life is to create partnerships between research universities and law enforcement agencies to reduce crime — particularly murders,” she says. “To accomplish this, I would like to be a tenured university professor who researches crime with the intention of favorably changing public policies.”
Her interest in criminology stems from true-life crime shows, like “Forensic Files,” “Dr. G: Medical Examiner,” “Dateline NBC” and “America’s Most Wanted.” She remembers talking to her stepmother about how awesome it would be to do criminal investigations, but that interest was placed on the back burner since she had no idea how to get into the field.
“Now that I’m in sociology and study under advisors who specialize in crime, I can take my hidden passion, bring it to the forefront, and turn it into my career.”
Because her successes and goals are so impressive, it’s hard to imagine the trauma she had to overcome to achieve them all.
For nearly two years of her adolescent life, she was sexually and emotionally abused by her stepfather, and emotionally abused and neglected by her mother.
“While the abuse was going on, I had a feeling it wasn’t something ‘normal’ that others experienced,” she explains. “But, I didn’t know for sure because, other than going to school, I was barricaded from the social world. My stepfather confessed to my mother that he had sexually abused me after the first incident, however, even with this knowledge and my affirmation, my mother stayed with him and continued to live life as normal.
In November of seventh grade, my grandfather, whom I was very close with, passed away. My mother did not allow me to go to his funeral, and left me at home with my stepfather. After yet another incident with my stepfather, I decided that I was tired of living in fear. I sought peer counseling from school on the basis of my grandfather passing. After about two weeks, I confided in my peer counselor about the real truth, and the school and law enforcement took matters into their own hands from there.”
Sacra’s stepfather and mother were eventually arrested, and she went to live with her father and stepmother, to whom she attributes her “triumph.”
“She was the one who started the process of removing me from my mother’s custody after she found out my mother knew about the abuse, did nothing about it, and continued to have me under her care,” she explains. “She provided the loving and supportive environment that I needed to heal and grow into the person I am today.”
Q. You sound like a very busy girl! What do you do for fun?
A. For fun, I like to go to UCF football games and watch NFL games on TV with my friends. Otherwise, I enjoy relaxing, listening to music, and catching up on sleep.
Q. What music do you listen to when you want to tune out the world?
A. I have a very eclectic taste in music, so it would depend on my mood. Typically, old hip hop/R&B or old-school rap with a good amount of bass will do it. Otherwise, upbeat stuff like Reggaeton and newer hip hop.
Q. Pet peeves?
A. When people drive and do not use their turning signals. It’s the WORST!
Q. Any hidden talents?
A. Something most people don’t know is that I’m a black belt in Taekwondo.
Q. Last book you read?
A. Excluding books for class, “I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai. GREAT book.
Q. Favorite reality TV show?
A. “Say Yes to the Dress!!!”
Q. What movie can you quote word for word?
A. When I was younger, I would watch “Home Alone 2,” “Dennis the Menace” (1993) and “Hook” on repeat, so I have those down pretty well. Otherwise, I love to quote “Stepbrothers,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Dark Knight.”
Q. If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. Bread in any form
Q. Most embarrassing moment?
A. One summer at Wet ’N Wild, I was with a group of my friends waiting to get on a ride. Everyone was picking on me for one reason or another. I tried to come back at them stating that I’m not that silly or clumsy. As I was talking, I walked right into a pole. It didn’t feel great, nor did it help prove my point.
Q. Do you have any regrets?
A. I really don’t have any regrets. Anything that could be regrettable, I view as learning points and therefore do not regret experiencing them.
Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. I would want to learn how to sing. Being a musician, I love music. I can play my heart out on my trombone or some steel drums, but if my life depended on me singing something that is remotely pleasant to the ear, you’ll probably never hear from me again!
Q. What’s the happiest/proudest moment of your life so far?
A. I feel most happy when my stepmother is proud of me and what I have accomplished. She knows every struggle that I’ve faced, so when she sees me conquer something meaningful, I can tell she’s proud of me, which is the greatest feeling.
Q. What advice would you give to others who are going through or who have gone through traumatic situations like yours?
A. For those who are currently going through something like this, speak up. It will probably be the most difficult thing you will do, but it’s the key to ending the nightmare. Additionally, during and after the abuse, I felt ashamed, like somehow it was my fault that the abuse occurred, or that it’s my fault my mother and stepfather went to jail. But, it wasn’t and never will be. I think that’s a very important piece of information. It’s not your fault. Although something like this is a very private and personal thing to most people, it’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. We are not victims, we are survivors.
If you or someone you know is suffering from abuse, please seek help. Here are a few resources:
Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline | 800.4.A.CHILD
The National Domestic Violence Hotline | 800.799.7233
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) | 800.656.HOPE