For Eden Heller, it’s been a chance to not only teach in New York City, but also live here, instead of commuting from New Jersey or elsewhere.

For Sapna Chemplavil, it’s provided an opportunity to make the educational system more accessible to families without the advantages she and her siblings enjoyed as the children of a Las Vegas physician.

For Jonathan Buckingham, a former Naval officer, restaurant manager, professional chef and sommelier, it’s a “golden ticket” to the career that really speaks to his heart: as a teacher in early childhood education. 

And it has enabled Andres Rodriguez-Aponte to experience the emotional high of of delivering math lessons in Spanish to Hispanic students at the High School for Law and Public Service in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood.      

“It” is the Abby M. O’Neill Teaching Fellowships named for its funder, the late TC Trustee Emerita, who died in 2017.

O’Neill’s goal was to ensure that committed, talented and idealistic aspiring teachers would not be prevented by either tuition or cost of living from studying in New York City. A pilot of the Fellowships program, which ran a few years ago, was so successful that she made a $10 million bequest to expand the fellowship in perpetuity.

In exchange for a commitment to spend at least two years teaching in New York City public schools after graduation, each O’Neill Fellow receives $40,000 toward tuition and educational expenses. They also benefit from what Celia Oyler, Professor of Education, calls “clinically-rich, top-quality teacher preparation” – a combination of immersion in courses at TC that provide a rich grounding in educational theory with assignments in two public school classrooms (a different one each semester) during the New York City school year. 

“Mrs. O’Neill saw the gift as a commitment to New York City schools and New York City children,” says Aimee Katembo, Director of TC’s Office of Teacher Education. “She recognized the price tag and wanted everyone to have access to TC so graduates could focus on teaching and not have to worry about debt. It opens the door for people to come to TC who might not otherwise enroll here.”

Yet the program’s benefits are unique to each enrollee.

“I’m Puerto Rican,” Rodriguez-Aponte says. “Spanish is my first language. Spanish is the first language for many of my students. So I can be a role model who shows them that I can do it, then they can do it, too.”

Which is exactly as it should be, says Oyler.

“The fellowship enables people who could not afford to come here a chance to do it,” she says. “And these are the students who are the most devoted to teaching in the city. This allows a lot of dreams to come true.”