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Diversifying the Education Field

Published on November 08, 2016

Diversifying the Education Field

In its ongoing effort to grow the pool of qualified teachers and advance the field of education, Eastern Connecticut State University is participating in the Holmes Program — one of only two participants in the state and 45 across the country. A project of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), the Holmes Program supports students from historically underrepresented backgrounds who are pursuing careers in education.

As part of the project, Eastern is hosting Colombia-native Ayda Liliana Parra Rojas and Sri Lanka-native Chamanthika Wickramasinghe, who are both pursuing master’s degrees in education. They are joined by three staff and faculty members who are also alumni of Holmes programs: Dean Jacob Easley of the School of Education and Professional Studies (SEPS), who participated at Pennsylvania State University; and Professors Tanya Moorehead and Lindsey Massengale of the Education Department, who both participated in the program at the University of Central Florida.

With the ultimate goal of diversifying the field of education, the Holmes Program provides mentorship and professional development opportunities to education students from underrepresented backgrounds.

“Hosting the Holmes Program fits in with the mission and vision of Eastern,” said Moorehead, advisor of the program at Eastern. “The education field as a whole is predominately white female, particularly in elementary school. This gives us a way to recruit and develop different faces and backgrounds in the teaching world, because the faces that we’re teaching aren’t always represented by the faces that are teaching them.”

Easley is also president of the National Association of Holmes Scholars Alumni, and credits the Holmes Program as integral to his professional development. “Mentorship within the program is an impeccable resource,” he said. “Eastern’s Holmes Master’s program is an asset to both the university and the teaching profession in Connecticut. Its potential to transform teacher diversity is quite promising.”

In addition to their studies, Wickramasinghe and Parra Rojas are working within Eastern’s Graduate Division as well as performing education research and working with schoolchildren from local communities.

“The future of the world is built upon what children learn and how we guide them. One of the best ways to influence the future of education is to be a well-educated teacher,” said Wickramasinghe regarding her decision to pursue a master’s degree in early childhood education at Eastern. After working as a teacher, she eventually hopes to earn a Ph.D. so she can teach future teachers and conduct research on best practices.

Parra Rojas is working on dual-credit programs with high school students from surrounding towns. She’s also performing research on the recruitment, development and retention of minority teachers, as well as special education and language acquisition.

“My aspiration is to obtain certification in the state of Connecticut to teach bilingual students,” said Parra Rojas, who is in the master’s degree program of elementary education. “Then I will pursue a Ph.D. in special education and bilingualism so I can support bilingual students and teachers in this area.”

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for me to be at Eastern and work with such a well-educated faculty,” said Wickramasinghe, who is intrigued by educational technology and special education. “The small class sizes allow me to work with my lecturers directly, and the people are so friendly, you never feel homesick.”

“The sense of community at Eastern makes a difference for non-traditional students like me,” said Parra Rojas, who comes to Eastern with another master’s degree and previous teaching experience. “I’m supported with the necessary plan of study required by the state, a strong body of experienced professors and skilled administrative people, and the financial support of the Holmes Program, which will all help me to fulfill my goal of becoming a certified teacher.”

Written by Michael Rouleau