WOOSTER, Ohio – Teach for America (TFA) – a non-profit organization that strives for equitable and excellent education for all children – has become a popular first step for College of Wooster graduates, so much so that Wooster ranked second in the country (among small schools, defined as 2,999 or fewer undergrads) with 11 members of TFA’s 2017 corps, it was announced recently.
According to Ashleigh Best, associate director of career planning at Wooster, 10 percent of Wooster graduates will do a year (or two) of service before entering graduate school or seeking other employment, and she said that with “lots of students interested in helping bridge the academic gap year … TFA is a great fit for them.”
Wooster’s 11 corps members are spread out throughout the United States, working in metropolitan areas, such as Dallas, Detroit, Milwaukee, San Diego, and Washington, D.C.
Rachael Davis ’16, in her first year with TFA following a year with another service organization, City Year, is a seventh grade science teacher in Indianapolis and said her experience has been “gratifying” thus far. “There’s some moments where you can’t imagine yourself doing anything different … like when we did an egg drop and to see (the students) super excited about doing actual science.”
While Davis and her fellow 2017 TFA corps members are still getting their feet wet, the program has proven to be an outstanding stepping stone for a number of Wooster alumni, whether they follow a career path in teaching or use the training in another endeavor.
Take Courter Shimeall ’06 for instance. Shimeall, after two years of TFA service in Los Angeles and two more years as a recruitment director for the organization, is now an associate at Brickler and Eckler law firm in Columbus, Ohio. While law school was part of Shimeall’s post-grad thought process, he wasn’t ready for it right away and TFA’s “investment in education and social justice seemed like a good fit.”
A decade later, Shimeall still gushes over the merits of his TFA experience. “While it’s not really tied directly to what I do now, it just gives you a greater sense of the way the education system in America works and some of the inequities that play out on the ground. (And) knowing what people’s motivations and barriers are on all sides of the equation is very helpful,” he remarked. “Even if you don’t stay in the classroom, you can advocate for (the students) in lots of different ways.”
In Eric Seling ‘05’s case, he remains an advocate in his current leadership role in inner-city education. Seling’s two years of TFA in St. Louis “definitely shaped him,” and pairing that experience with an MBA from Tulane University, helped him land a role as the chief operating officer for Orleans Parish School Board.
Overseeing a budget of close to $400 million, Seling helps set up procurement policies and is a careful steward of resources, always with the best interests of the 45,000 students in New Orleans public schools in mind. That mindset is a credit to both TFA and Wooster. “When I think about Wooster and liberal arts education and TFA, it’s a perfect marriage. Ultimately, I left Wooster with the ability to communicate well, think critically, and those skills serve really well,” he said. “There are a lot of eyes on what’s happening in New Orleans … and I want to help share the message that urban education can be successful.”
Others, like Matt Fegan ’12, are so inspired they stay in the classroom. Fegan’s initial two-year commitment took him to Tulsa, Okla., and though “teaching is hard as hell sometimes,” he stayed on for two more years there because of how well TFA is received in the community and “it’s a social ill that (he’s) passionate about.”
Fegan has since moved to Denver, where he teaches sixth grade math in a charter school network, but remains a very strong proponent of TFA. During the summers, he is still involved with the organization, training the next round of corps members, and in fact, noted what a thrill it was a few months ago to meet and prepare fellow Wooster alum Imani Ferguson ’17, now a TFA corps member in Cleveland.
If this current trend holds, as expected, there will be many more TFA-Wooster connections.