Teach for America lists its core values as the relentless pursuit of results, sense of possibility, disciplined thought, respect and humility and integrity. For 10 University of San Diego students about to graduate and join Teach for America, these core values should simply be an extension of their four years at USD.
Teach for America, a wildly popular program that places college graduates in classrooms across the nation, received more than 46,000 applicants this year for 4,500 positions. These recent graduates will teach in some of the poorest school districts across the nation and become teachers and mentors to some of the country’s neediest students.
“Teach for America looks for leaders with strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills who are devoted to ending the educational achievement gap,” said Kasey Kobs, a counselor with USD’s Career Services. “USD students, with their liberal arts foundation and focus on social justice issues, are a natural fit for TFA.”
During the 2010-2011 school year, Teach for America will be in 38 regions across the United States with more than 7,000 teachers in the field. Although San Diego is not yet participating in the program, the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles already host Teach for America instructors.
Political science major Alex Owen said he became interested in Teach for America as a way to continue serving the community.
“What motivated me was the ability to do a service on the level of the Peace Corps in America. I just learned about our political problems in college, now I have the ability to put theory into practice,” said Owen, who will be teaaching in Phoenix this fall. “If people make it their goal to participate more often than election day, a country with a spirit of volunteerism and service has a tremendous power to control its destiny.”
This year a large number of USD students also are choosing to begin their careers with other service organizations. At least eight students have been accepted into the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and the Providence Alliance for Catholic Teachers.
Michael Lovette-Colyer, director of University Ministry, sees the increased interest as “a reflection of our university’s increased focus on Catholic Social Thought, dynamic service and social justice programming throughout campus.” The ministry staff includes three former JVC members.
When Matt Forgey began as a biology major at USD, he thought he’d probably become a teacher. But through his involvement with University Ministry, he was drawn to JVC, whose motto is “community, simple living, social justice and spirituality.” Students accepted into the program commit to serve where the need is greatest with people who are marginalized by society.
Following an intensive process that included an essay application and a series of interviews, he was one of about 300 students chosen each year. Forgey said he’s excited to begin his work as a campus minister at the University of Detroit Mercy. While he may eventually teach biology, he hopes to be involved in some sort of youth ministry. “This is a great way to get my feet wet,” he said.
Ashlen Nimmo, a Spanish and sociology major, will spend two years with the international version of the JVC, serving as a teacher in Peru. Her desire to serve was “based on a combination of my passion for social justice, my insatiable love of travel and learning about new cultures, and my desire for holistic growth.”
Other students said that USD’s emphasis on service had inspired them. Jennifer Wooley, who is earning a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, is one of at least 11 USD students nominated for service in the Peace Corps. Wooley expects to be teaching science in Africa. “I am looking forward to immersing myself in a new culture, sharing the skills I’ve gained from my education here at USD and learning all I can from the experience and bringing it back home with me.”
Eventually, she plans to pursue a career in health care. She expects her Peace Corps experience to help her “learn to think on my feet, be resourceful in teaching and remain patient in difficult situations, all of which are important traits to be effective in any job.”
— Melissa Wagoner and Liz Harman