A graduating Maverick—and her mission to serve

After a combat brain injury, Air Force vet earned degree to help children with special needs

Thursday, Dec 14, 2023 • Cristal Gonzalez : contact

Lamiea Ezell spent her 19th birthday deployed in Iraq, dodging rockets flying over her base. It was the life she had always wanted and planned for: a career in the Air Force, which she joined right out of high school, with aspirations to be an advocate for other service members and their families.

Lamiea Ezell

“I loved my job, which was to look for explosives and to keep the roads safe,” she said. “I knew that was what I had enlisted for. It was to keep others safe.”

But her plans—and her life— changed drastically on what would be her final deployment to Iraq. An improvised explosive device detonated nearby, and Ezell sustained a traumatic brain injury.

The military life Ezell had known ended abruptly. But following a strenuous recovery, she was able to begin a new chapter, which will culminate Friday when Ezell receives a master’s degree in special education at The University of Texas at Arlington’s fall 2023 commencement ceremonies at Globe Life Field.

She still has a mission to serve, but this time it’s for families who have neurodivergent children. This new mission is still rooted in her desire to help others, but is now inspired by her two sons, who both have autism.

“My first son was the start of it all. At the time, I didn’t know I would be pursuing a master’s in special education, I just knew I wanted to know everything about my son and the services he was receiving,” Ezell said. “I wanted to learn as much as I could and translate my knowledge to better help my son.”

Ezell observed and gathered information from her children’s therapy sessions, joined parent support groups and, during the pandemic, transformed her home to help her sons continue their speech and occupational therapies.

Lamiea Ezell and her two sons

“During the pandemic, when we only had access to the therapist through the screen, I had to figure out how to work with my youngest son at home to help him, support him and challenge him—and I really loved doing that,” she said. “There were people at our school and our clinic who would tell me all the time I was doing a great job with my kids, and they would ask if I ever thought about being a teacher.”

For Ezell, that sparked a familiar feeling of needing to support others. She wanted other parents to know they are not alone. So in the spring of 2021, Ezell enrolled in the special education master’s program, combining her UTA studies and her personal life experiences to better support neurodiverse children and their parents.

“I began to feel this need to be a leader again, to be a mentor and an advocate for families with neurodivergent children,” she said. “I wanted to be a liaison and provide support for all the people involved in the lives of these kids. If I wanted to help the whole special-needs community, I needed to go back to school to make myself aware of the different learning and intellectual disabilities.”

Brenda Harris, Ezell’s field supervisor, said she immediately noticed how poised and well-prepared Ezell was when she observed her in the classroom during her clinical teaching.

“The very first time I observed Lamiea in the classroom, I wasn’t quite sure if she was the supervising teacher or the clinical teacher,” Harris said. “And the more I observed her, the more I could see the rapport she had built with the students. The way she worked with the students made them feel safe to just speak up and be part of the learning.”

“My children are my inspiration. This whole journey 100% started with my oldest and solidified with the youngest,” Ezell said. “I’m taking my degree and pouring it back into my community. In whatever I do, whether it’s in schools, hospitals or clinics, I’m going to serve and be an advocate for neurodiversity.”


UTA commencement schedule:

Nearly 4,500 students at The University of Texas at Arlington are scheduled to graduate as fall 2023 commencement ceremonies kick off at 9 a.m. Friday, Dec. 15, at Globe Life Field, 734 Stadium Drive, in Arlington. These newest Maverick graduates will become part of a 270,000-graduate UTA alumni network that helps yield a $28.8 billion economic impact on North Texas.

The schedule of ceremonies is as follows:

  • 9 a.m. College of Business, College of Liberal Arts and School of Social Work
  • 2 p.m. College of Education, College of Engineering, College of Science and the Honors College
  • 7 p.m. College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs, College of Nursing and Health Innovation and the Division of Student Success.

Call Globe Life Field at 817-533-1972 for ADA accommodations for attendees. More information on the ceremonies is available on the UTA Commencement website.