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Welcoming a Diverse Class


Welcoming a Diverse Class

Welcoming a Diverse Class

Welcoming a Diverse Class

Welcoming a Diverse Class

Welcoming a Diverse Class

Welcoming a Diverse Class

“Let me start by congratulating you on getting into one of the best and leading schools of education in the country, and in making the right choice in coming here.”

Those were TC President Susan Fuhrman’s opening words to the nearly 1,500 members of this year’s entering class at the New Student Experience/Orientation held in the Cowin Center at the beginning of September. Fuhrman reminisced about her own first day at TC in 1972 (“I had Donna Shalala for my advisor—talk about luck”), discussed TC’s legacy of great thinkers (“You’ll walk in the halls that John Dewey walked in—and we apologize if some of them still look like they did then”), and talked about TC’s history and continuing tradition of making an impact in the real world.

“Your experience here is not just about your scholarship but also about preparing you to work directly with our constituents out there,” she said, and went on to describe the College’s new partnerships with schools in Harlem and its growing list of collaborations with education ministries and schools in other countries.

She closed by advising the new students to “luxuriate in the opportunity to read and learn.

“Be self-indulgent intellectually,” she said. “As an undergraduate you were fulfilling college requirements, and in your jobs, you’ve had to meet the demands of the people you work for. But this is the time where you get to decide what you want to study, and that’s something that will guide you for the rest of your life.”

Fuhrman also sketched a quick demographic portrait of the entering class. (For the numbers, see the box below.) The following are portraits of six new TC students.


Tyler Whittenberg 

Tyler Whittenberg is a third-generation reformer. His great uncle A. J. Whittenberg, a gas station owner, was a plaintiff in a 1963 NAACP federal suit that desegregated schools in Greenville County, South Carolina and brought them into compliance with the Supreme Court’s famous Brown v. Board of Education ruling. The A. J. Whittenberg Elementary School is scheduled to open in Greenville, the county seat, in August 2010.

Whittenberg’s father, Charles, who was the first African American physician in Greenville County, is a pediatrician in Simpsonville, where Whittenberg grew up and went to school. It’s where he says he learned that, as much as South Carolina’s and the nation’s race relations have changed in the past 40 years, they still need hard work and repair.

“Education is a social issue,” declares the intense 23-year-old, delivering a message he learned from his mother, Ernestine, a nurse who works with pregnant teens. “You can put all the money into a school and make it a brilliant school, but children don’t learn if they aren’t supported. You can’t just change the school. You have to change the communities.”

It was no surprise, then, that upon graduating from the University of South Carolina in Columbia in 2007, Whittenberg decided to study education policy at TC. But first, because he believes too few policymakers know what it’s like to stand up in front of a classroom, he spent a year teaching social studies at one of the most troubled middle schools in Columbia, where 15 of his students were gang members.

“I knew this was not going to be a joy ride,” he recalls.

Indeed, the experience only reinforced Whittenberg’s belief that America’s schools are broken and can’t be fixed by one middle school teacher at a time, however brilliant or well-intentioned. If there is a solution, he believes it will be systemic, it will be discovered by big, visionary thinkers—he includes in this number some faculty members at Teachers College—and executed by armies of courageous doers like his great uncle, father and mother.

Whittenberg wants a “politically active” career, but not a career in politics. To be a politician, he says, “you have to take favors and do favors.” Instead he would like to run a nonprofit organization, perhaps a foundation, which can help diagnose what’s wrong with America’s schools (although he already has plenty of opinions about that). And while he has no aspirations to personal wealth, he wants to control enough money to fund systemic, bold solutions.

Whittenberg begins his studies this month at TC with three of the best policy thinkers in the country:  Michael Rebell, Executive Director of the Campaign for Educational Equity; Douglas Ready, a sociologist and Assistant Professor of Education, whose research examines the influence of educational policies and practices on educational equity and access; and Jeffrey Henig, Professor of Political Science and author of Spin Cycle: How Research Is Used in Policy Debates, The Case of Charter Schools, (Russell Sage Foundation/The Century Foundation, 2008). For Tyler Whittenberg, studying with these faculty members is part of fulfilling a dream. “I’m in class with the leaders in their fields,” he says. “It’s surreal to be here.”


Michelle Grappo

Michelle Grappo began a long-distance relationship with Teachers College when she was teaching special needs children at an American International School (AIS) in the Arab country, Oman, in southwest Asia. “I fell in love with it online,” the first-year school psychology student says. “You can’t find this kind of intellectual diversity anywhere else.”

Grappo should know. She has lived more than half of her 25 years abroad, including in Central America, Portugal and the Middle East. She considered graduate programs all over the English-speaking world—England, Ireland, the United States, Australia and New Zealand—before choosing TC.

Diversity was the hallmark of Grappo’s years attending, and then teaching in, the AIS system. “You’re going to have at least a class of 20, and at least 10 different nationalities,” Grappo says. “You see kids from countries that have political problems playing together beautifully.”

Her plan now is to get a master’s degree in school psychology and return to the Middle East to start a regional health and educational center for local students. The school would provide health and psychological care and nutrition counseling, as well as traditional academic courses, delivered by U.S.-educated professionals.

Grappo would first look to hire among Teachers College alumni. “It is such a privilege, in my eyes, for clients to have access to affordable services from leading experts in the field.”


Kerry Johnson

Kerry Johnson will tell you flat out that she’s a major fan of Olivia the Pig, Ian Falconer’s endearing tale of a feisty little shoat in polka-dot pajamas, who loves reading so much that she requests too many bedtime stories.

True, her interest is somewhat professional. Johnson, a Harvard graduate in English literature, worked as an editor of children’s books and wrote promotional materials about them. If she sees a child on the subway open a book that she worked on at Harcourt, Inc. or HarperCollins Children’s Books, she can barely resist the urge to strike up a conversation.

But there’s a good chance she’d be up on Olivia’s doings anyway.

“I guess you could say I’m obsessed with reading,” laughs the 33-year-old native of Woodmere, Long Island. She entered TC this year to become a reading specialist and to learn to work with children who are experiencing reading and writing difficulties. She will also learn about the cognitive processes involved in learning to read. But mostly, she’s excited about the chance to share her deep love of books with children.

And on her down time? Well, the Teachers College Bookstore (on campus at the corner of Amsterdam and West 120th Street) has a number of Olivia books for purchase.


Chris McBride

As a long-time yoga teacher, Chris McBride knows how to engage his students’ bodies—but McBride, who graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2003, came to Teachers College to learn how to reach hearts and minds.

“I never really was that passionate about yoga,” confesses the 32-year-old Vancouver native and first-year student in the master’s in elementary school education program. “I much prefer verbal interaction.”

McBride believes the best teachers engage the whole student—mind, body and heart. He looks forward to talking with students, even those of elementary school age, about ideas deeper and more profound than how to execute the perfect “downward-facing dog.” Yet he believes that if teachers in general are to have the opportunity to do that, he says, there will have to be major reform in public schools.

“Schools should be more caring about developing the whole human being,” he says, which, in his view, would include more arts, nutrition and physical education. Above all, “there should be more heart in education”—a concept with which no good yoga teacher would dissent.


Courtney Grzesikowski

Well before Courtney Grzesikowski was awarded her bachelor’s degree at the University of Miami in special education and sociology last May, the 22-year-old Tampa native had decided to pursue a graduate degree in education with an emphasis on research and education reform.

Her reasons for choosing to do so at TC could be part of a mission statement for the College:  “I am mainly interested in how research can affect policy change and how doing academic and scholarly work can be transformed into change at schools. I am mostly interested in policies related to equity, and education equity as a moral imperative.”

Clearly Grzesikowski has read TC’s Web site, but it was more than mere rhetoric that brought her here. Her undergraduate mentor, who knew people at TC, strongly encouraged her to come because he thought her research and policy interests were a good fit. (Coincidentally, University of Miami President Donna Shalala was a TC faculty member in the 1970’s and a mentor to Susan Fuhrman, TC’s President, when Fuhrman was in graduate school here.)

“It just came together that this was where I was supposed to be,” Grzesikowski says, “the City, the experience, the school’s reputation.” She is enrolled in the master’s program in special education and sociology, but fully intends to pursue a doctorate and then become a university professor, researcher, or both. She wants to work on “anything related to policy and equity issues. I would also be open to doing consulting, whether on a state or district level, or working for an education think tank.”


Robert Cortes

Robert Cortes barely clears five feet, but he seems taller when he explains why, at age 41, he left a 20-year teaching career in the Philippines to come to TC.

Five years ago, Cortes was a successful Latin and English teacher handling some administrative duties at Southridge, a private high school for boys in the Manilla suburb of Muntinlupa City. Wishing to expand his administrative as well as teaching skills, he began looking on the Internet for graduate programs in education. He quickly found TC’s Klingenstein Center for Independent School Leadership, which develops teachers, leaders and administrators for private and independent schools across the globe.

He knew it was the best fit, but “it was only now that I found the courage and the funding” to come to New York City, Cortes says. On orientation day in September, he was finishing the 100 pages of required reading for his first class in education law with Professor Jay Heubert. He was looking forward to that class, but also to his courses in leadership development at the Klingenstein Center.

He plans to earn a master’s degree and return to the Philippines ready to become a school administrator—but not before making the most of his TC experience, for which he left a good job, a good salary and his homeland.

Cortes takes an Aristotelian approach to the sacrifices he has made to come here. “Aristotle doesn’t equate happiness simply with emotional happiness, but rather, reaching in the end for that which you were made to be. Being here, being stretched to the limit—I may have moments of unhappiness here. But in the end I am moving toward the full potential of my intellect, and in that sense, I am happy.”

Fall 2008 incoming class

1,443 students, chosen from over 5,430 applicants—one of TC’s most selective classes ever. 

11% are pursuing doctoral degrees, 89 percent are pursuing master degrees.

The oldest person is 67, the youngest is 20.

53% self-identified as non-white. 

7.3% are citizens of another country.

82% are women, 18% percent men.

Collectively, the entering class represents 44 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

More come from New York (568 students) than from any other state. New Jersey is second (118 students) and California is third (73).

Collectively, the entering class represents 25 different countries other than the U.S. South Korea ranks first, with 14 incoming students. China is second with 12 (including of 3 from Hong Kong), Taiwan is third with 10 and Canada is fourth with 8.

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