Ready to Take On the World | Teachers College Columbia University

Skip to content Skip to main navigation

Ready to Take On the World

TC's newest students have big plans. Introducing Matthew Robinson, Naejin Kwak, Faye Calder, Jaleh Hamadani, KatyAnna Johnson, Jay Sobel, Angelica Quintero and Modinat Sanni
TC’s newest students have big plans

Each fall, a new group of students arrives at TC, ready to engage in ideas, research and projects that could transform their lives, their fields and perhaps even the world. Inside presents some of their stories below. 

Matthew Robinson
Exploring the Difficult Things in Life

(click for video)

They say the real New Yorkers come from out of town. If so, Matt Robinson would seem to fit the bill.

On the one hand, Robinson, a doctoral student in counseling psychology who was born and raised in a small farming town in Iowa and earned his master’s degree at the University of Kansas, says he still feels like a tourist. 

“I’ve visited New York many times, but living here is different. It’s overwhelming, amazing.” 

On the other hand, he chose New York and TC because of the multicultural environment—and, helped by his job in the Office of Student Activities and Programs, he already seems to know more about the city than many people who have been living here for years. 

“I can’t stop eating new things and going exploring,” he says.

Robinson’s work, too, is anything but provincial. He has joined a research team led by Jill Hill, Associate Professor of Psychology and Education, that is comparing the marital satisfaction of LBGTQ couples to that of heterosexual couples. The study is being conducted online, with a goal of enrolling more than 200 couples from the United States, Mexico and Canada.

“There haven’t been a lot of previous studies on this, so part of what we’re doing is looking at an assessment instrument called the MSIR, which looks at areas of stress—how couples get along, conflict—to see how applicable it is to LGBTQ couples,” he says. 

Another challenge: With few states sanctioning marriage for LGBTQ couples, the researchers have had to refine their definition of “marital.” The study will focus on couples who have been together for at least two years.

Obviously it’s a bit soon to be looking down the road to life after TC, but Robinson has a pretty good sense of what he’ll be doing, if not yet where. 

“I’ll probably work as a therapist at some point, but I’ll never be far from academia, because I love being in school and learning,” he says. “I want to explore the difficult things in life.” 

Naejin Kwak
Educating Across Cultures

(click for video)

As a student at Yonsei University in Seoul, Naejin Kwak logged many miles participating in international student forums in her native South Korea, as well as in Japan, China and Russia. She also volunteered in Thailand, where she first became interested in how educators can meet the needs of a culturally diverse classroom.

“Minorities in Thailand are struggling with education,” Kwak says, “and cultures are a melting pot now.” The same is true in Seoul, which “is getting more diverse and international,” and where schools increasingly serve not only immigrant children but also the children of international marriages whose mothers do not speak Korean. “It isolates the children,” Kwak says of these linguistic and cultural issues, and “schools are not quite ready to educate them.”

So Kwak chose to enroll in the master’s program in comparative and international education at TC—an institution that was created to help immigrant children.

“TC is located in New York City, and it has a history of training teachers from other countries,” she notes. She was also drawn by the interdisciplinary aspect of the College’s program in international education, which encompasses anthropology, sociology and political science.

Kwak would like to return to South Korea and work in research, policy or consulting. She thinks about getting a doctorate some day. “TC has a very good reputation in Korea and great networking after graduation.” 

Faye Calder
Playing All the Angles

As an undergraduate at New York University, Faye Calder pursued a double major in psychology and sociology and a double minor in music and social and cultural analysis. A mentor helped her narrow her focus by suggesting that she become a school psychologist. While following that advice, Calder has continued to pursue multiple angles. She chose TC’s program in school psychology partly because she will graduate as a certified school psychologist—“that title is really important to me,” she says, especially given the current job market—but also because of its multidisciplinary approach. 

At TC Calder is learning how to administer and interpret a battery of tests that offer a holistic assessment of children and learning challenges. Just as important, Calder is learning that “you shouldn’t just rely on the test,” however informative. Rather she says, a school psychologist should consider a range of options before devising a plan of intervention, including observing children in class and interviewing them, their parents and their teachers.

Having grown up in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, Calder feels well equipped to do just that kind of hands-on work during her local field placements at TC.

“Your job is really important,” Calder says. “When you make an intervention, it has to be just right.”

Jaleh Hamadani
Helping Others Through Self-Knowledge

A native of Iran, Jaleh Hamadani enrolled in TC’s Master’s Program in Clinical Psychology because she was drawn to the “open-minded” research taking place in the department on topics ranging from autism to spirituality in the classroom. 

“I love the diversity of the department here,” says Hamadani, who received her bachelor’s degree in psychology two years ago from the University of California-Berkeley. “I’m interested in the humanistic and cognitive behavioral areas of psychology.”

After finishing up at UC-Berkeley, Hamadani worked as a counselor on a suicide hotline. The experience convinced her to become a therapist “because working with people in crisis was so satisfying—it’s amazing how open people are when they need help.” An area of psychology that particularly interests her is meditation, which she has practiced for nearly six years. Most recently, she volunteered at the Zen Center in San Jose, where she did translations. 

“It helps me to know myself,” she says of meditating. “And that helps me to know others.” 

KatyAnna Johnson
Educating Beyond the Classroom

(Click for video)

North Dakota native KatyAnna Johnson became intrigued with TC’s Peace Education program while she was an undergraduate at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. Before applying, though, she served a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in inner-city Baltimore, coordinating service learning and civic engagement projects at an after-school program for high school students.

“My students in Baltimore were thirsty to discuss social inequities they witnessed or were affected by in their community,” says Johnson. “My education at TC will better prepare me to create and facilitate programming that raises students’ consciousness and encourages them to explore pervasive structural or cultural violence.” 

Johnson is now pursuing a master’s degree in International Educational Development with a concentration in Peace Education. She says her transition to life in New York City has been easier than in Baltimore, mainly because she is living at International House, which provides a “built-in community with positive energy.” She may look for a job overseas in a developing country after she graduates, but hopes eventually to work for a domestic NGO in the area of peace and justice education. To that end, she’s found studying education and international development at TC invaluable, because the College values so many different kinds of educators. “I don’t necessarily see myself in the classroom,” Johnson says.

Jay Sobel
Following in the Footsteps of the “Teacher Man”

(Click for video)

Four years ago, after more than a decade as a successful commercial real estate attorney, Jay Sobel was ready to change direction. He retired, traveled in the United States and Asia, and even started a thriving book and media distribution company.

It was all fun, but it wasn’t enough. “I started looking for a career that I can do and enjoy for the rest of my life, into my later years,” he says. “I wanted more of a feeling that I’m connected to the community.” 

Sobel, who had majored in English and business administration at the University of Maryland, decided to become an English teacher. He entered TC this fall in the Master of Arts in English Education program with plans to teach English in grades seven through 12. One week into the semester, he was delighted to discover that he will be student-teaching at Stuyvesant High School, the storied setting of Frank McCourt’s literary memoir, Teacher Man.

Sobel chose TC because of its proud history and consistently high ranking. “If you’re going to pay money for a master’s degree, you might as well go for the best,” he says. “I don’t want to get the degree and struggle to get a job.” 

Angelica Quintero
Demonstrating Education’s Possibilities

(Click for video)

By the time she applied to TC, Angelica Quintero had logged four years teaching English and reading at Anaheim High School, her alma mater. By then she had become interested in education issues beyond her California hometown.

“When I first went into teaching, I thought I would teach for the rest of my life,” Quintero says. “But I began to feel pretty confined in the classroom. I discovered there is not too much I can do there to change education. I became interested in issues of inequality in education, especially for Latinos.” 

Quintero immigrated as a child to Anaheim from Cuernavaca, Mexico with her single mother and two siblings. She was the first in her family to go to college, graduating from California State University, Fullerton. She wants to demonstrate to other Latino students that “anything is possible”—including “getting a really excellent education.”

At TC, Quintero is enrolled in the International Educational Development program with a concentration in Latin American and Latino Education. Down the road, she might switch to the Education Policy program.

“My passion is education, but not necessarily teaching. I’m not sure exactly where I want to go with that,” she says. “I’m here to figure that out, and I know I’m in the right place.”

Modinat Sanni
From Insuring Houses to Ensuring Students’ Success

(Click for video)

Soon after finishing college, Modinat Sanni knew she needed to switch fields. 

“I was working in insurance,” recalls Sanni, an MA student in TC’s higher and post-secondary education program. “I went to work, I told clients, all right we can insure your house, and that was it. I wanted to do more and be more.” 

As an undergraduate, Sanni had transferred to Stony Brook University from a much smaller college, where she’d hoped to connect easily with faculty and students. Surprisingly it was Stony Brook, with an enrollment of some 25,000 students, where she ended up feeling nurtured, mentored and generally attended to.

“My RAs made an effort to reach out to me, especially knowing I was a transfer student. And the administrators were never too busy—if you needed to speak with them, they made the time for you.”

Long story short: Sanni decided to work in higher education, ultimately as either a Dean of Student Services or Dean of Multicultural Affairs. Both jobs demand a genuine understanding of “who students are and where they come from”—knowledge Sanni says must come from a combination of “research on demographics and societal trends” and “getting to know students, working in different atmospheres and having hands-on experiences.” 

She spent this past summer working as a case manager for a non-profit, Urban Strategies TASA, and prior to that as a counselor for the Harlem Children’s Zone. Now she’s taking Kevin Dougherty’s course, “The American College Student.” 

“We’re focusing on how students choose schools,” Sanni says. “Is it just financial aid? Does it have to do with their parents or the need to be in certain kinds of environments?” 

Sanni brings the same curiosity to her TC experience. 

“TC can be as great as you allow it to be,” she says. “If you just come to class and leave, you’ll just end up saying, ‘Wow, that was a lot of work.’ But if you take advantage of it all, you’ll really reap the rewards.”

Published Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010


More Stories