Cherie (Hsing-Ching) Kuo, who has received her Ph.D. in movement sciences/kinesiology, is broadly interested in neuroscience, but with an emphasis on research that can directly help patients with disabilities or injuries. As an undergraduate at National Taiwan University, Cherie studied physical therapy and worked as a research assistant on studies of motor function in pre-term infants.
After graduating from college in India, Sanyukta Bafna, a business major from a family of lawyers, spent two years teaching 4th and 5th grades in Mumbai for Teach for India (TFI). She spent an additional year serving as a program manager, which included being the TFI math coach for all of Mumbai.
Despite the skepticism of some of her family members, Sanyukta decided to devote herself to being an educator but “felt a responsibility to learn more about teaching.” A friend told her about Teachers College.
After a stint teaching English in Spain, Raqshinda Khan knew she had a future working with English Language Learners. When she returned home, she worked at High Expectations, an enrichment program for underserved youth offered by the Harlem Educational Activities Fund (HEAF). When Teach for America accepted her application, she was assigned to Intermediate School 528 in Washington Heights – where she has been teaching English and writing, designing a new advisory curriculum, and taking on various leadership roles ever since.
When Daniel Souleles graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2008 with a degree in ancient Greek, “I knew I wasn’t going to be a classics professor,” he recalls with his distinctively self-effacing humor. But after finding life as a paralegal less than stimulating, “I got the sense that I wasn’t done with my education.” Daniel considered applying to doctoral programs in English literature, but worried that he would need to find a narrow field of specialization to find success in academia. When he hit upon anthropology, a field that was still relatively unfamiliar to him at the time, the light bulb quickly began flashing. He would race home from his paralegal job to scour the internet for course syllabi, graduate theses, major works in the field, and anything else he could get his hands on. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh my god, if this is a job I want to try for this.’”
Lauren Kelly, who has received her doctorate in English Education, never intended to become a leading scholar in the field of hip hop pedagogy. As a public high school English teacher, she just knew that her students found hip hop relevant and that it helped them connect to her lessons.
Lauren has been teaching for the past 10 years, much of that time in the district in Dix Hills, on Long Island, where she grew up. She loves the classroom and working with young students, but she’s also known for a while that she wanted “to teach teachers.”
The paths for those two interests converged when Lauren read the book Beats, Rhymes and Classroom Life, by Mark Lamont Hill, then a Teachers College professor, and was inspired to propose an entire course at her school centered on hip hop.
Ilya Lyashevsky is a technology nerd with the soul of a poet. Born in Russia – his family was part of the mass wave of emigration that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union – Ilya attended Stanford, where he majored in computer science and minored in creative writing, and went on to earn a master’s degree in computer science. He worked at technology startups and published short stories in literary magazines. Over time, he came to the realization that fiction is really about helping people “understand themselves and others, and hopefully building better relationships between people and ultimately a healthier, more equitable world.” Fiction does that, he says, through two key components: psychology and education.
In many ways, Marcos Espino Cervantes has lived the American dream. His father, born to a humble family in a simple adobe home in the state of Michoacán in Mexico, came to California to work the fields alongside the thousands of other immigrants who crossed the border in search of a better life. With the help of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 – Reagan-era legislation that granted legal status to many seasonal farmworkers – Marcos’ father was able to get a coveted “green card” and apply to bring his wife and four children legally to the United States. Arriving at the age of seven, Marcos attended public schools in the then-low income Mission District of San Francisco – at the time, a predominantly low-income neighborhood, but where he got a solid education that would change his life. “I experienced, firsthand, challenges to educational access like economic hardship and language barriers,” Marcos writes in a personal statement. “When I went to school my parents worked long hours to put food on the table. It was in a bilingual program that I began to learn to read and write in both Spanish and English. Learning to read and write in both languages helped me open many doors.”
While expertise in computer programming has been the ticket to fame and financial success for entrepreneurs from Steve Jobs to Bill Gates, Jang Hee I sees the possibilities of the field in a very different way. For Jang, it all started observing a blind friend named Mike stuck in the rain waiting for a bus in Boise, Idaho. Years later, when watching a video of Mitchel Resnick of the MIT Media Lab discussing the possibilities of computer technology, Jang’s mind immediately flashed back to the image of Mike in the rain. “I wanted to figure out a way to help expand the opportunities of computer programming to visually impaired/blind people as well,” Jang recalls.
Ashley Chambers’ first encounter with a musical instrument wasn’t the most auspicious. As an elementary student, Ashley became inspired by some friends who could tap the keys of a piano and make real music happen. “I just wanted to play like them, so badly,” she recalls. So her parents signed Ashley and her sister up for lessons on the pedal organ – which turned out to be an instrument neither of them felt particularly inspired by. “It was a bit harder,” Ashley recalls. “My sister and I did not enjoy those lessons, and my parents strongly encouraged us to practice.” Over time, the Chambers sisters made the switch to piano, and finally the musical magic was there. “After that, my parents didn’t have to say, ‘Go practice, Ashley,’ because I was doing it on my own. And I grew to love it,” she recalls. Of course, you can’t play piano in the school band, so in middle school Ashley took up the saxophone at her father’s suggestion (he had played the sax as a student), and she soon found yet another instrument to love. In high school, she played with the York College Blue Notes, a group of New York City public high school students who participate in the Summer Jazz Institute sponsored by the College Now program at CUNY’s York College.
Growing up in Macau, “a funny place that not a lot of people know,” Ieong Cheng (Katy) Ho always dreamed of coming to the United States. An accomplished musician who had begun studying violin and viola at the age of six, Katy somehow managed to get herself to New York at age 17, where she spent her senior year of high school at the city’s famed Professional Children’s School. The transition was not as easy as she had imagined – “I was so young and naïve, I thought I could handle all of this” – and included so many hours practicing in her Queens apartment that the neighbor below would bang a broom on the ceiling promptly at 9 pm every night to remind Katy and her roommate, a piano student also from China, that it was time to quit. But the endless hours of practice paid off, and within the year she was accepted at the Juilliard School, where she would go on to earn a B.A. and M.A. and have the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall and on other famed concert stages around the world.
When Gifty Agyapong was in the seventh grade in the South Bronx, one of her favorite teachers was TC alumnus Jonathan Schleifer (M.A. ’04) who sparked her passion for social justice and educational equity. After graduating from Syracuse University with a major in international relations, she began taking up the call, and served a year as a City Corps member in New York City. At Schlieifer’s suggestion, Agyapong decided to enroll at TC. She joined the Master of Arts program in Education Policy, from which she will earn a Master of Arts in May.
As a teaching fellow in China’s rural Yunnan Province, Haley Nelson had an epiphany about the connection between health and educational disparities when her eight-year-old student unexpectedly returned a piece of candy that he had won in a class review game. When asked why, he opened his mouth wide and pointed to a blackened, decayed tooth: “It hurts too much to eat.”
“In the community where I was living, there was very poor access to dental care,” recalls Nelson. It was just one of “the health-related barriers that were visibly affecting my students’ ability to learn in the classroom.”
James Nadeau always had a pretty good idea that he wanted to help students from underrepresented groups find success in college and careers. After college, he spent a year in Zambia working for a non-profit organization that gave low-income students the opportunity to attend private boarding schools. In 2011, he came to New York to work for The Opportunity Network, where he built partnerships with institutions of higher education and advocated for students who might otherwise have fallen through the many cracks in the educational pipeline.
It’s almost impossible to imagine the unrelentingly enthusiastic Alison Désir of today as someone lacking confidence and sliding into depression. But as Alison herself tells the story, it was only a few short years ago that, almost by accident, she hit upon distance running as a miracle cure for a low point in her life during which she couldn’t find a job and her father was diagnosed with a serious illness. As a child, Alison had been so active her parents said she had “powdered feet,” a Haitian Creole expression for one who is always on the move. But now things were at a standstill. When she learned that a friend had trained for and run a marathon, she figured there wasn’t a good reason she couldn’t pick herself up and do the same, and she soon found herself running in the 2012 San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon. She quickly discovered that distance running not only helped her feel better, but also helped her “learn a lot about my body, about discipline, about the connections physical and mental health.”