GREAT GRADUATES 2020: Daria Ochenkowski

April 17, 2020

Daria Ochenkowski

Bellarmine University will confer more than 900 degrees this May from bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs. Collectively, our students' accomplishments are immeasurable. They’ve achieved lofty successes and overcome daunting challenges, even before COVID-19 changed the world and pushed campus life totally online. We're celebrating our graduates with stories that highlight their ingenuity and resilience.

Daria Ochenkowski, Education Major

Dr. Winn Wheeler will never forget the first time she met Daria Ochenkowski. As a junior, Daria was taking Wheeler’s Reading Foundations class for her education major.

“Within the first five minutes of our interaction, I learned about Daria’s deep passion for helping children learn,” said Wheeler, a literacy professor. “She wanted to learn everything she could about teaching students.”

That passion was indicative of Daria’s career at Bellarmine, where she was a student-athlete involved in numerous activities, all while excelling at classwork and maintaining a spot on the Dean’s List.

“She has made decisions that will help grow her into the kind of leader and teacher who will make a profound difference in the school community,” Wheeler said.

Daria graduated from Bellarmine in December and immediately landed a position teaching sixth-grade social studies at Newburg Middle School, where she’d done her student teaching.

Observing her teach, Dr. Elizabeth Dinkins, chair of Bellarmine’s education program, said Daria was ‘teaching her heart out.’

Daria, who is from Lexington, became interested in Bellarmine after being recruited to the Knights’ track and field and cross country teams. After she attended one of the university’s OverKnight visits for admitted students, Bellarmine felt like home.  

“It was the perfect combination for what I was looking for in a school,” she said.

Daria considered another major first, but pivoted to education, and knew it was the right fit.

“People are my passion,” she said.

When Daria met Wheeler, she was volunteering at the Backside Learning Center at Churchill Downs, which evolved into a summer position through the Americorps VISTA program. Daria ran the after-school program, working one-on-one with students to strengthen their reading.

“I loved my work there,” she said. “It will forever have an imprint on who I am. It really showed me the value of reading and reading instruction.” 

Daria said the work correlated perfectly with what she was learning in Dr. Wheeler’s class. 

“I was consistently going back to class, saying, ‘I’m having a situation with a student,’ and I was able to break it down, learning the foundations of reading and pinpoint, ‘Oh wow, this is where they’re lacking in reading instruction,’” she said.

While at Bellarmine, Daria also worked with children who have Down syndrome as a camp counselor at Dreams with Wings, a Louisville nonprofit serving children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Due to injuries, she opted to leave the track and field team. Still, she enjoyed her athletic career, and served as president of Bellarmine’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. She also was a Bellarmine officer in Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society in Education.

Most of all, Daria said she loved Bellarmine’s tight-knit community.

“Being able to walk through campus and pretty much know everyone you walk by is really cool,” she said. “That’s something you don’t get in a lot of places. You can have that connection anywhere you go on campus. The relationships you build with professors are huge as well.”

Daria said she’s interested in returning to Bellarmine to earn her master’s and then possibly a Ph.D. in education and social change.

In the meantime, she’s honing her professional skills and earning a living doing exactly what she wants to do.

“I’m where I want to be,” she said.


Hometown: Lexington, Ky.

Major(s): Middle School Education, Social Studies and Learning and Behavior Disorders

Activities: Cross Country, Track & Field, FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes), Kappa Delta Pi

Internships or work experience: Backside Learning Center and Dreams with Wings

Post-grad plans: Currently 6th grade social studies teacher at Newburg Middle School

Why Bellarmine? I first chose Bellarmine because of running, but overall it felt right from the second I stepped on campus.

How would you describe your college experience? Challenging but rewarding, I hit quite a few speed bumps along the way, but forever thankful for the people that kept me going.

Who has made the difference along the way? Coaches, professors, friends

What advice would you give to incoming freshman? Throw away the plan, which is one of the hardest things to do. Find things to be grateful for and know you are on the right track. If you don't think you are, you will for sure make your way back there. Keep the faith. Find your people.




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