Alumna applies special education degree in unique career

November 3, 2010

Bradley alumna Ali Ashworth Stewart loves working with children and working in a hospital, but she decided not to become a doctor or a teacher.

She became a child life specialist, one of many practical career choices that education and health science students often overlook.

After spending time in Bradley’s Academic Exploratory Program, Stewart decided to pursue a degree in special education. Many students choose this major on a path to classroom teaching, but Stewart had a different plan.

“I like to be non-conventional in all sorts of things,” said Stewart, who realized the program could also prepare her to work in a hospital.

That kind of enterprising non-conformity translated to Stewart’s entire Bradley career. Instead of a standard student teaching placement at a Peoria school, she worked with her professors to find a way to teach at an Air Force base — in London.

Stewart graduated in 2001, moved to Houston, and found work teaching at an inner-city public school. She taught a leadership program where she took high-risk students to perform community service at Healthbridge Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas. That’s where Stewart found the perfect opportunity to apply her special education background in a nonconventional career field – child life care.

Child life care is a growing field at many children’s hospitals. Child life specialists help children handle the stress and boredom of hospital stays. Stewart works with children of all ages and typically with those whose hospital stays extend beyond one month due to long-term recovery from injuries or illness. Other child life specialists work with patients in the emergency room, before and after surgery and even in dentist offices.

Many degrees offered at Bradley, such as Stewart’s special education degree, open up a large world of little-explored career choices and opportunities for further education and training. A career in child life also requires an extended internship at a children’s hospital and a passing grade on a national certification exam after college.

Stewart emphasizes the importance of a diverse education. She is thankful for the opportunity to explore many different options at Bradley, enabling her to find a career she deeply enjoys.

“Figure out what you love to do in life, and then figure out how to get paid for it, and you’re golden,” she said.

Information on careers as a child life specialist can be found at