Tianna Gunderson finds passion in helping students with disabilities

The senior left winger is majoring in special education.

Forward Tianna Gunderson shoots the puck at Ridder Arena on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. The Gophers beat Ohio State 3-0.

Jack Rodgers

Forward Tianna Gunderson shoots the puck at Ridder Arena on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. The Gophers beat Ohio State 3-0.

Erik Nelson

While some Gophers players have chosen to major in science fields, left winger Tianna Gunderson has chosen a different path.

Gunderson’s mother owned a daycare center for 25 years. Working with her mother helped Gunderson, a senior, decide to pursue special education.

“I helped her out in the summers when I was in high school,” Gunderson said. “The last summer that she ran it, she switched jobs so I ran the daycare for her. I love working with kids. I wasn’t sure … what I wanted to do for my major. She told me that if she could go back, she would be a special education teacher.”

After listening to her mother’s advice, Gunderson said she decided to start researching the major and volunteered with Special Olympics Minnesota. 

“That was my first experience working with people who have a disability,” Gunderson said. “I loved it. They bring a lot of challenges, joy and love. I’ve had practicum experiences throughout my studies, too. That’s been helpful with gaining more experience with them.”

On Saturday, Gunderson was one of eight Minnesota seniors honored before the Gophers’ 3-2 victory over Minnesota State.

Left winger Taylor Williamson said Gunderson is respected by everyone on the team.

“She knows exactly who she is, knows her morals [and] what she stands for and doesn’t let anyone or anything impact that,” Williamson said. “It doesn’t matter if she’s on or off the ice. She is devoted, tough and disciplined, and grateful for every day that we get to put [on] the maroon and gold jersey.”

In four seasons with the Gophers, Gunderson has played 101 games and has recorded six points. She has only scored one goal, which came on Jan. 28, 2017, in the Gophers’ 5-0 win over St. Cloud State. In high school, Gunderson won two Section 8AAA championships with the Roseau Rams in 2012 and 2014. 

Head coach Brad Frost said Gunderson is mature on and off the ice.

“She had some other opportunities to go other places but wanted to be a Gopher,” Frost said. “Its been fun to see her grow in her maturity. She’s a great leader on our team regardless of whether she sees the ice or not.” 

Defender Sierra Smith sits with Gunderson when both don’t play. Smith said Gunderson has taught her to be humble and grateful for her life.

“We’re both excited to be in our positions and wouldn’t change it for the world,” Smith said. “Being able to see her live that out is very encouraging for myself and lets me know that we can do it together.”

When she graduates in May, Gunderson said she will be licensed to work with individuals up to 21 years of age. 

Gunderson said special education is important to the success of a child, especially in preschool-aged children.

“I’ve been interested in early childhood studies because it’s very important to catch those disabilities with those students,” she said. “The earlier you catch their disabilities, then the better chance they have at staying caught up with where they’re supposed to be. Special education teachers are needed everywhere.”