Something Different

Posted on November 6th, 2009 by

Holly Andersen 09 centered with a group of her students

Holly Andersen '09 center with a group of her students. (Photo submitted)

Written by Megan Gode ’10

“After considering careers in corporate communication and journalism, I knew in my heart that neither fit me very well. Internships and career experience had shown me that I had not found my niche in the aptly titled ‘real world,’” Katie Mason ’09 says of her search prior to dedicating her efforts to Teach for America.

Many graduates, like Mason, are unsure about entering into the so-called “real world.” While some students will immediately enter graduate school, and some will take on a job in their selected field, there are those, like Mason, who are looking for something different.

“I received some important advice from an individual at a company I worked at the summer before my senior year: he told me, quite simply, to ‘do something different, find an adventure.’ I wrote down his statement, folded it, and put it in my wallet,” says Mason.

For Mason and other Gustavus graduates, their “something different” came in the form of Teach for America (TFA), one of the nation’s largest providers of teachers for low-income communities. Founded in 1990, the program’s mission has been to eliminate educational inequity through enlisting exceptional college graduates from various backgrounds and career interests.

“I’ve always felt strongly about inequalities that exist,” says Holly Andersen ’09, a special education teacher at Brooklyn Center High School. “Especially because I feel like I’ve always been on the positive side of these inequalities, and I did nothing to earn my position on the positive side.”

Acknowledging these inequalities, Andersen has made it her purpose to use her fortunate circumstances toward making a positive impact in her students’ lives. “These students didn’t earn the place that they are at, either. It just happens. And while that may seem incredibly unfair, I realized I didn’t just have to sit there and ponder this. I could do something about the difference in conditions. I could use the gifts I’ve been given, namely my education, and distribute it to those in less fortunate situations,” says Andersen.

With the help of such individuals as Mason and Andersen, there are currently more than 7,300 TFA corps members teaching in 35 regions throughout the country. Because of these corps members’ remarkable efforts, a difference has been made in over three million students’ lives. “I know that within the four walls of my classroom the work that my students and I do each and every day counts,” says Mason, who is currently teaching eighth grade language arts in Arizona. “Whether we are studying the elements of literature or the six traits of writing, we spend each moment meaningfully. We work each day to prepare ourselves for the future. As I work toward becoming a better teacher, they work toward graduating from middle school.”

Many of the Gustavus alumni who are in the program attribute their success and experiences in Teach for America to their time at Gustavus. “Several times I’ve reflected upon how I got into Teach for America or what made me even want to join the organization,” says Andersen. “I honestly feel as though Gustavus deserves so much credit for my drive to be in this organization, as well as for my admittance. The core values and the way the College instills them in its students is the perfect foundation for joining a program like TFA. The professors I had, the groups I was a part of, they all pushed me to gain and value those characteristics and want to take them with me out into the world.”

“At this point, I know that I’m not only working toward making my life count,” says Mason. “Instead, my fellow eighth grade teachers and I are responsible for reminding students daily that they have a reason for coming to school. We tell them as much as we can that they have options in their life. We believe that they can make their life count.”


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