ASU ranks among top three universities in the U.S. for its number of Teach For America applications received during the 2012-2013 academic year. More Latino students at ASU applied to join Teach For America than at any other university in the nation. Arizona State University Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College special assistant to the Dean, Nikki Gusz, talks about the program.
Jose Cardenas: TFA recent college graduates who commit to teach for two years in rural and impoverished schools. First learn about a new venture by the teachers college and teach for America called change making in education being offered in the fall at ASU.
Narrator: ASU students will be working alongside teach for America corps members in their second year or alumni of teach for America where they are working on a challenge presented to them by the teach for America corps members. This is something that can be community based, school based or in the classroom, something corps members see that is happening holding back students' educational success.
Alex Miller: I'm Alex Miller, a nonprofit student. I'm a Junior. It's important as we're creating the global economy and these things that everyone has education on the forefront of their minds. Doesn't matter if you're in journalism or engineering, you need an educational component. This class offers that unique opportunity to really see education in action. To see that no matter what you're studying you can do something with education.
Jose Cardenas: Joining me to talk about this new course as well as more about teach for America is Nikki Gusz, special assistant to the Dean. Also here is Matt Estrada, a TFA corps member. Thanks for joining me this evening. I want to talk about teach for America but we just saw a video about a new course.
Nikki Gusz: We're so excited to offer this course. It's the first of its kinds in the nation asking students at ASU to think about how can they make a difference in education? Whatever their major may be we really believe someone can have a role and be a change maker in their community.
Jose Cardenas: How many students will be in the course?
Nikki Gusz: We hope for about 30 students this fall and our plan is we could offer more sections and there's actually interest in offering it to other universities potentially.
Jose Cardenas: This is change making in the educational context.
Nikki Gusz: That's correct.
Jose Cardenas: So what kinds of things are you expecting to come out of this?
Nikki Gusz: We're asking students to work with current teach for America teachers on a problem that the teacher faces in their school or community or even in their classroom. So they will actually partner with that teacher on a project. The hope is that from that project they will submit a $10,000 grant to the ASU innovation challenge to come up with a solution for the challenge in that teacher's school.
Jose Cardenas: We're not talking about people who have already been through the Teach for America program and have been selected to participate. This is open to everybody, undergraduates at ASU?
Nikki Gusz: That's correct. Any student of any major at ASU can enroll. There's an honors section and a section for all students. We have an opportunities for them to work with a current teach for America teacher in the classroom so they are learning about what teach for America might be looking like, working in a low income school and what it looks like to be in education. They may want to double major in education or maybe get a master's or doctoral degree.
Jose Cardenas: Matt, you just graduated.
Matt: Estrada: Yes.
Jose Cardenas: Your degree is not in education.
Matt Estrada: I'm a biological sciences major.
Jose Cardenas: What's the connection between you and teach for America?
Matt Estrada: I was reached out to by teach for America. I'll be teaching middle school science, using the knowledge to apply that to education. Although I don't have an education background yet, come two, three weeks out I'll be receiving training from the teachers college as well as TFA about education. I'll go through a summer course and be ready to teach in the fall.
Jose Cardenas: You're teaching in a different location.
Matt Estrada: I'll be moving to Las Vegas to teach there, then I'll be attending UNLV to do a master's in education while I teach in the classroom.
Jose Cardenas: What's the length of your commitment?
Matt Estrada: It's a two-year commitment. I may do an extra year. I'll probably stay there at least another year to make sure I have that in case I want to fall back on it.
Jose Cardenas: You're planning on getting certification as a teach center.
Matt Estrada: Yes. I want to get my state certification. We'll see how that goes for me.
Jose Cardenas: Let's talk generally about Teach for America.
Nikki Gusz: The concept to Teach for America is that we have a challenge in our country and that is that we unfortunately now see students depending on where their zip code is defines their educational future and the future of their life more broadly. So teach for America asks recent college graduates or career changers to commit
Jose Cardenas: They are people who are education majors?
Nikki Gusz: They could be. We have students from our teachers college or they could be a biological sciences teacher like Matt. It doesn't matter what their major is. It could be a graduate student. So they make the commitment to teach for two years in a low income school, but they then become lifetime leaders in education. I was actually a teach for America corps member. I came to Phoenix five years ago. I chose to come here. I wanted to be in this community, be part of this community. I did not consider education really as a field that I would want to be in long term but because of Teach for America I'm committed to being a change maker in education.
Jose Cardenas: Where did you get your training?
Nikki Gusz: I came to the Phoenix institute. We have over 700 students that will be coming to the valley here in a couple weeks. There coming from students just like Matt who just graduated college or from a different field, and they are then committing for five weeks they are going to be teaching summer school in Phoenix. At the Phoenix institute. You do a training program over the summer then go into your classrooms throughout the regions across the United States in the fall.
Jose Cardenas: As I understand it, Phoenix or ASU's program is one of the largest in the country.
Nikki Gusz: That's correct. This year at ASU we had the most Latina Hispanic applicants in the nation come from our university to Teach for America. Then we also were third in the nation for number of applicants over all, which is a huge accomplishment. With have had well over 300 students apply from ASU. That speaks to our culture historically. You started at a teachers college, it showcases that our students at ASU are committed to figuring out the challenges in education and the teachers college where I work we have over , 5,000 students.
Jose Cardenas: The students come from all across the country. Is that true also of the Latino applicants?
Nikki Gusz: That's correct. All across the country just like our ASU students do as well.
Jose Cardenas: Matt, is there anything in particular that got you interested? Teach for America?
Matt Estrada: For me I went to Tarbon high school for two years. I got to see education from a different light. I don't think I really appreciated what my education was until I got to ASU and got to meet people from all overt country, outside the country. Came to the realization that my education was lacking. Other people had anatomy in high school. I didn't even know of the possibility. My high school was too busy trying to catch everyone up and make sure they were meeting the bare minimum criteria they didn't have the luxury to offer anatomy. That was something I saw firsthand. My older brother dropped out of high school, so education is not something I have learned to see where some schools are lacking. I was able to overcome that but most aren't.
Jose Cardenas: How were you recruited?
Matt Estrada: Apart from the signage all over campus, they do a great job making sure their name is out there on the campus. I was reached out to personally by one of the campus recruiters. They sent me an email knowing there was this opportunity. I sat down with them. At first I wasn't 100% sure if I was going to go ahead and submit an application. I got to go to a few events, be with a few school teachers in the valley as well as in Las Vegas. I go got to shadow in the classroom, hear about the mission and fell in love with the organization, everything they are doing working with students told me I could see myself doing for at least two years. At that point I decided to submit the application, went through the extensive interviewing process and a few months later here I am.
Jose Cardenas: Talk about the shadowing experience that you had.
Matt Estrada: So after I decided I was going to turn in an application there was an opportunity to fly out to Vegas. It's one of the high need regions. There really recruiting to get people out in Vegas. Appolonia let me know about the opportunity. I decided to take it. I was there two, three days. I got to sit through a middle school, a few middle school classes, got to see teachers in action, saw the students, it's one thing to hear students are two, three years behind their reading level but when you actually see it and they are still reading at remedial levels in middle school it really sinks in. How can a student get to seventh grade and no one has stopped them and they have been reading at a fourth grade level. How have they gotten by for three years without this being addressed.
Jose Cardenas: Nikki talked about the number of students, that ASU has the largest number of applicants in the country.
Matt Estrada: I think it's something a lot of us overcame if we obviously we made it through high school successfully, but we have seen a lot of people, friends who don't necessarily make it through. So it really gives us motivation to give back. I know I have been really lucky to be helped out by scholarships, by advisors, friends and family. It's something I always feel is a great way to give back. Once you hear about teach for America it's easy to sign up for two years. Doesn't seem like much of a commitment at all.
Jose Cardenas: As I understand it the process is pretty selective. Only about 10% of the applicants are chosen to be corps members.
Nikki Gusz: That's correct.
Jose Cardenas: What are you looking for in these students and what is it that you want them to be able to do once they are selected?
Nikki Gusz: I think Teach for America looks for students like Matt. Someone who is a leader in his community, someone who is committed to making a difference. Someone who really has a vision for what the future can look like. Wants to be a change maker in the community. So I think that's really why teach -- what teach for America is looking for. We have seen in the last ten years a doubling of the number of Latino Hispanic students enrolled.
Jose Cardenas: Why is that?
Nikki Gusz: I think it's ASU's commitment to access. We're committed to making sure that students from any background can have a university education and not just any university education but an extremely excellent one. So this makes us a natural partner with teach for America. We have a lot of similar institutional alignments for goals and commitments. We know there's a lot of great things happening here but I think the young people at ASU and the people that join teach for America really believe that they can make the world a better place. It's a really inspiring place to be part of.
Jose Cardenas: On that note we have to end our interview. Thank you both for joining us on the program to talk about teach for America. Good luck in Las Vegas.
Matt Estrada: Thank you.
Nikki Gusz: Thank you.
Nikki Gusz:Special Assistant to the Dean, ASU Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College; Matt Estrada:Teach for America Corps Member;