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Inspiring Educators from Freshmen to Superintendents

08.12.2013
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Dr. Mariann Tillery, Dean of the School of Education

Training at a NASA space camp, learning to teach children through LEGOs, working with fellow educators from around the state and finding mentors for every step of their journey to success – that’s what High Point University has to offer education majors at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels. Dr. Mariann Tillery, dean of the School of Education, says the school is growing and new opportunities are popping up every year.

Q: One of the newest programs being offered by the School of Education is a mentorship program for recent graduates. Describe the program.

A: We want to give our graduates the support needed to be successful teachers in the classroom and the first few years can be particularly challenging. Research shows that approximately one-third of new teachers leave the profession within the first couple of years. The number one reason cited is a perceived lack of support. One of our initiatives this year, a New Teacher Support Group, is utilizing 14 retired teachers in the area who are volunteering their time to work with our graduates. They will offer advice, visits to their classroom, a sympathetic ear and any other assistance new teachers may need.

This type of initiative also gives our graduates an advantage in seeking a teaching position. Many administrators have told us they are more likely to hire a teacher who has this continued support from the university in which they completed their program.

Q: Are you offering any mentorship opportunities for current students?

A: This year we will implement a Freshman Mentoring Program that is designed to help our new education majors feel more connected to the School of Education early on in their program of study. We plan to offer a series of activities throughout the year including education seminars, events with the Teachers of Tomorrow student organization and we will introduce them to a peer mentor who can assist them in navigating their first year at HPU. All of our peer mentors were selected by our faculty last year and are currently sophomores or juniors majoring in education.

Q: There are also some changes coming to the doctoral degree program, correct?

A: Yes, our first doctoral candidates just completed their initial year of study, and recently hosted an Education Leadership Studio this summer. The focus of the studio was to develop tools and strategies to become proactive leaders in reactive times. The studio was a collaborative effort between HPU, East Carolina and Western Carolina Universities. All three schools are taking a “practitioner’s approach” to the doctoral degree in educational leadership and focus on district level problems of practice in K-14 settings. The studio allows doctoral candidates, educational stakeholders, and university faculty to create a state-wide network of leaders who can provide collaborative opportunities to solve our most pressing challenges in education.

Q: The school also has an elementary master’s program in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. How is that program growing as public schools shift more of their focus toward STEM?

A: We’re taking a very hands-on approach to the STEM elementary master’s program. Our graduate students work with local elementary and middle schools on STEM related projects using LEGOs and robotics to foster critical thinking and problem solving in mathematics and science lessons.

Dr. Shirley Disseler, assistant professor of education, was recently named chairperson of the Global LEGO Education Advisory Panel’s (LEAP) Advisory Board. This allows our students to field-test brand new educational LEGO products to potentially be used in classrooms. (For more information on Dr. Disseler’s appointment click here: Dr. Disseler LEGO appointment)

Additionally, some of our graduate students visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. this summer. The NASA program is designed to help current teachers learn new ways to encourage students in math and science. It was the first time instructors at the camp actually worked with pre-service teachers. NASA staff members were quite impressed with the quality of our students. One student was even hired to work as a teacher crew trainer at the center this past summer. (For more information on DeAngelo’s story click here: Katie DeAngelo)

Q: Tell us more about your growing list of success stories.

A: Of course we are so proud of all of our students. Three of our recent graduates come to mind including Katie DeAngelo, who was hired to work at the NASA Space Camp this summer; Leni Fragakis who just had an article published in the Interdisciplinary Unit Bank for the International Reading Association, the premiere international literacy association; and Chris Terzigni who made local headlines with an innovative service learning project he designed for his fourth grade students to help “finish the race” for runners in the Boston Marathon. The project allowed his students to integrate math, writing, research and technology while getting involved in a project they were passionate about. That’s just good teaching.

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