Personal Story

Feature Issue on Inclusive Higher Education for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities

On Her Toes
A Healthy Career on the Horizon


Samantha Gonzalez is a senior at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, studying nutrition and fitness. She told her story to Amanda Champagne, a University of Colorado staff member, and Tabatha Gonzalez, Sam’s mother.

A female college student stands at the front of an exercise glass, looking upward as her hands raise above her head. Around her, other people in the class also raise their arms up.

Samantha Gonzalez leads a Zumba class in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

I was born in Odessa, Texas in 2000. When I was born with Down syndrome, doctors emphasized all the negative aspects of it. They told my parents that I would not walk, talk, learn, or have the ability to feed myself, and that they should have no expectations for me. My parents were determined that I have every opportunity available that anyone else would have, however, and they taught me important lessons as I grew up about not being afraid to try things and to always go after what I want.

I moved to El Paso when I was a kid, and had a speech therapist, counselors, and a lot of great teachers who helped me learn how to be a great student. I also had a supportive family and a great dance coach who always told me “Never stop dancing and never give up.” I have always loved school because I enjoy learning, having new challenges, and making friends. In high school, I loved my classes and my dance team. The best part of my senior year was becoming the Homecoming Queen in 2017. After graduation, my family threw me a huge party, where I showed everyone my dance solo, and everyone loved it. I was so proud, and it was one of my favorite memories of performing.

I really wanted to go to college because I am passionate about trying new things and making new friends. I also wanted to learn how to be more independent. I dreamed of becoming a dance coach and I knew that going to college would help me accomplish that. During my senior year of high school, we looked at colleges and visited many campuses.

A lot of them were good, but they were not the same as UCCS. The University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) was my favorite. Everyone was so friendly and I was excited about all of the opportunities I could find through the Office of Inclusive Services (OIS). Even though I was excited to go to college, I was also scared. My family and I all moved from El Paso to Colorado Springs. We moved into a new house and I had to learn a lot of new things very quickly.

My time in college has been so exciting! I am now a senior at UCCS, studying nutrition and fitness. I work at the Rec Center and teach as a Zumba instructor. I am a great college student. I am still very close with my family and they are always proud of me and how great I am at learning. I am a good person with a fun personality. I always do my homework and get straight A’s in school. For fun, I love to dance with my dance team. I like to do word searches, travel, and hang out with friends. I have always felt very welcome at UCCS and very happy to see all of my friends and have new adventures. For the UCCS Homecoming dance, I got together with all of my friends in OIS and we all got dressed up. I wore a beautiful dress and very sparkly shoes. I danced with all of my friends and took a lot of pictures. It was the best time.

I have learned how to do a lot of things on my own. I am really proud to teach my own Zumba class. I teach adults how to get moving, stay strong, and be healthy. I have to learn different teaching styles, memorize choreography, and come up with different song lists. It is important for me to show up to class prepared and ready to help people have fun. In addition to being a Zumba teacher, I also work at the Rec Center as a guest service attendant. The best thing about working in the Rec Center is my great coworkers. We always have fun working together and talk about our classes and hobbies. A lot of my coworkers have become my friends. The hardest part of working is all of the cleaning we have to do. With COVID-19, we have to be extra careful to make sure all of the equipment, balls, and front desk are sanitized so everyone who uses the gym is safe, which is important to me.

Being great at my jobs is not the only thing I have learned in college.

I have also learned how to cook for myself, how to be a good student and study hard, and so much about health and science. One of the skills that I am best at is making friends. I talk to people in my classes and people from OIS. After I meet people, I like making plans with them, such as going to an event together or getting lunch on campus. I have a lot of fun with my friends and we text each other a lot. One of my friends, Kaitlin, just made me a birthday card and it was so nice. My friends are always supportive, and it is great to have them say

“Go Sam!” whenever I get nervous. They help me feel more confident.

Now that I am in my last semester of senior year, I can’t wait to graduate! I plan on moving back to Texas to get a job that will focus on my major in health and nutrition, like working in a gym as a Zumba instructor or opening my own dance studio. I plan to live with my family and get involved in a dance team. I will also spend time with friends, travel, and just enjoy being back in Texas. Even though college has been a lot of hard work, I am really proud of everything I have accomplished. Sometimes trying new things can be scary, but I am always ready to take on new challenges. And with the support of my family and friends, I know that I will “Never stop dancing and never give up.”