The College of Human Sciences banner bearer has become a compassionate leader for her peers and beyond as she pursues a career in pediatric occupational therapy.
Maris Hammock took kindly to the new resident in her home in Plano, Texas in 2019.
The woman who moved inside was not a stranger by any means. Rather, she was her grandmother who was struggling to recover from a stroke.
“We were super close my whole childhood and we still are now,” Hammock said. “She lived in Denton, which was only 30 minutes away from me.”
After a stroke, it is common to experience lingering physical side effects like weakness, paralysis and trouble with balance and coordination. For those reasons and more, Hammock and her family wanted to ensure her grandmother stayed safe.
For good measure, they invited a team of occupational therapists (OT) to their home to make it as easy to navigate as possible. Hammock was in her final year of high school and felt inspired as she watched the OTs at work.
“They literally remodeled her bedroom, moved around her furniture, installed grab bars on her bed and did everything they could to make her more comfortable,” Hammock recalled. “I was like, ‘Wow, they made such a huge impact on her life and made it easier on us as a family to help her get better.'”
Before Hammock graduated in 2020, she quarantined with her grandmother during the COVID-19 pandemic and witnessed how hard she fought daily to improve. The dedication the OTs displayed to her grandmother's upward progression convinced Hammock she would like to join their profession one day.
There was just one difference, inspired by another member of her family: her little brother.
“My brother was born when I was 10, so getting to watch him grow up made me develop a strong passion for kids,” Hammock said. “They're so fun and sweet. I loved the idea of bringing a child to a desired state of life, helping them develop or redevelop their skills needed to complete their daily activities.”
“The College of Human Sciences' mission statement is to improve and enhance the human condition, and that is exactly what I wanted to do,” she said. “When I heard that, I knew this college was perfect for me.”
Taking the Lead
Hammock enrolled as a Human Development and Family Sciences (HDFS) major with a minor in Health Professions. Her classes taught her how to work with both traditional and nontraditional families, especially as they navigate a crisis or difficult road ahead.
Unlike with high school, Hammock felt captivated by what she was studying and consequently put in more work and effort as a student.
“I feel like I have gained so much experience in how to work with patients and be the best clinician possible,” she said. “My classes have really focused on how to do everything we can to improve peoples' lives.”
While she immediately felt at home at Texas Tech, savoring the small-town feel of Lubbock and support from the community, Hammock still felt shy. The COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for her to get involved and meet peers in her major like she wanted.
Then, in 2021, she heard about the HDFS/Early Childhood Education (ECE) Ambassadors. This student organization comprises undergraduate students majoring in HDFS or ECE who want to represent the collective voice of the students by not only addressing the needs within the department, but also working together to create a solution.
Hammock immediately had a goal in mind: to bring students together during a period of isolation. She decided to push through her quiet nature and took the officer position of social media manager.
Some of Hammock's duties were to assist with the special events she had been looking for, such as the Majors and Minors Fair, Texas Tech Preview Day, Human Sciences Day, Pizza with Profs and more. She particularly enjoyed how other HDFS students would approach their team to express how the major helped them feel prepared to begin their career.
Hammock's friendly nature and other qualities immediately stood out to Shera Thomas-Jackson, the HDFS undergraduate program director. During a time of high anxiety for most of the student body, Hammock remained grounded.
“One of the things that stands out about her is she is such a positive person and has so much positive energy,” Thomas-Jackson said. “She is extremely bright and wants to help others.”
Thomas-Jackson explained that Hammock's caring and empathetic nature helps her connect with people. Through their weekly one-on-one meetings, she watched Hammock's confidence begin to bloom.
Hammock jumped from the social media manager to secretary, then president of the HDFS/ECE Ambassadors – helping the organization create more recruiting events and brainstorming ways to make each member feel appreciated.
“She has gone from a rather quiet, studious student to always smiling and outgoing,” Thomas-Jackson said. “She's a fantastic leader.”
Hammock's growth as an ambassador even extended past her role as a student to herself as a person.
“When I first started, I didn't really like to talk in front of people,” she said. “Now my favorite thing ever is to go to recruiting events with high school students and try to get them into our major.”
Her involvement on campus extended to the Human Sciences Dean's Leadership Council and the Pre-Occupational Therapy Club, where she met even more peers and friends. One of them introduced her to an opportunity that combined her career interest with one of her favorite hobbies: gymnastics.
Through a program called Stretch-n-Grow, Hammock not only gets to channel the competitive gymnast she was as a child, but also the ethics she would like to practice as an OT as she teaches fitness, yoga and dance routines at Lubbock preschools and daycares.
“Getting to see the kids have fun and dance, I love it so much,” Hammock said. “I could be having the worst day ever and when I walk into work, the kids are like, ‘Coach, we love you!' They always know how to turn my day around.
“So, I know that in my career, no matter what I'm going through in life or whatever I'm feeling, kids will always have the power to make me feel happy.”
Thomas-Jackson is not surprised children take kindly to Hammock with her calm presence. She considers this a vital trait for OTs who frequently encounter families who are anxious about injuries and recovery progression.
“That's just her nature,” Thomas-Jackson said. “I think that's something inherent within her as well as a skill she's finessed.”
The Next Steps
By the time Hammock's December 2023 graduation approached, she had just completed a fulfilling community practicum working with adults with intellectual disabilities in the art room at High Point Village.
As she reflected on how fast her time as an undergraduate zoomed past, with all the lifelong friends and connections she made, she could not fathom leaving Texas Tech and all the opportunities in Lubbock just yet. She decided to apply to the School of Health Professions Doctor of Occupational Therapy program within the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and was ecstatic to be accepted.
Thomas-Jackson will miss their weekly meetings on the Texas Tech campus but is proud Hammock will continue her training as a Red Raider.
“She's so conscientious and such a good student that I know she's going to take in and learn everything she can and then be able to apply it in her career,” she said. “From what she's gained here, and what she'll gain from grad school, I think she will be an excellent OT in the future.”
It was not always easy for Hammock, as her OT prerequisites proved challenging at times. But as she gets her cap, gown and cords in order, she is reminded her hard work and perseverance have paid off.
There was one email she was not expecting, though – the one that announced she was selected as the banner bearer for the College of Human Sciences.
“I was honestly so shocked,” she said. “I can't even put into words how honored I am to represent the College of Human Sciences. I'm happy I'm able to give back as the banner bearer because the amount I've grown from my first year to now is absolutely insane.”
Hammock admits it will be a bittersweet day when she graduates, closing an influential chapter of her life and hugging her friends and professors goodbye.
But there's one moment she's particularly looking forward to – spotting her grandmother in the audience – a reminder of the impact she aims to make in the world.
“I am super excited about that,” she said. “I know she's worked really hard to get to this point because if it were three years ago, she probably would not have been able to come. I'm very thankful she's finally back to where she wants to be.”