Fourth-year minority students receive prestigious fellowships

By Joel Lanceta

Recognized for their commitment to education and accomplishments as minority role models, rising fourth-years Sonia Wang and Kandice Washington were two of 25 students from 17 colleges named recipients of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s (RBF) 2005 Fellowships for Students of Color Entering the Teaching Profession.

The fellows will each receive up to $22,100 from the RBF over the next five years as they complete a two-year masters degree program and three years of public school teaching.

Both Washington and Wang have participated in minority events on campus, especially through the Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA). Washington was active in OMSA’s mentoring program for minority students and Wang is currently president of the Korean Students Organization.

Teaching will allow Washington, who changed her major and career path to education last school year, the chance to work with urban students. “It is vital that minority students have examples of other minorities in front of them that are models of excellence,” she said. “Additionally, it enriches the classroom experience for a student who feels that their teacher understands them on another level, such as race or ethnicity.”

Wang has high hopes for the five-year fellowship. “I feel that you are given the opportunity to plant seeds in young children in our nation to be encouraged and be stretched to their utmost ability,” she said. “Just as the students are diverse, it is crucial for our teachers to represent the same diversity and support as well as visual guidance to the youth.”

The fellowship program was created in 1992 to provide needy public schools nationwide with qualified minority teachers while also helping to retain these fellows in the teaching profession.

According to a press release, this year’s fellows and the mentors they selected worked at a summer workshop in the D.C. area from August 4 to 7 to design a teaching project involving more experimental, rather than strictly academic, educational activities. The event also included a welcome dinner and lectures from experts on public education.

Both fellows credited their mentors for aiding them through the application process. Wang’s mentor was Sophia Carey, the assistant director and employer development counselor for CAPS. Washington was grateful to her mentor and former professor, Sara Ray-Stoelinga, a visiting assistant professor in Sociology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I not only learned a ton about education in her course, School Reform and Organizational Change, but she also took the time to help me craft my personal statement” [for the application], Washington said.

Miriam Añese, director of the Fellows Program for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, lauded both Wang and Washington for their long-term interest and for their commitment to helping their future students.

“Sonia overcame discrimination and language barriers, and her determination to become a teacher stems from her desire to have a positive impact on her students,” Añese said. “She herself was greatly influenced by one teacher who took an interest in her and helped her to achieve. Kandice had a more positive educational experience that nurtured a deep love of learning and teaching. It was her father’s support and guidance and her eighth-grade science teacher’s influence that inspired and caused her to consider a career in teaching.”

Immediately after graduation, fellows are expected to enroll full-time in graduate school. After receiving their master’s degrees in teacher education, the fellows will receive teacher certification and prepare for teaching in public elementary or secondary schools.

“I believe that the presence of minority teachers in the classroom and schools does make a difference in the education and lives of the corresponding students,” Wang said. “More than anything, I feel that there is a dire need for strong and qualified teachers, regardless of race and ethnicity, with a passion for equality in education.”