Last year we were pleased to announce the inaugural winner of our Aspiring Educator Scholarship, an initiative designed to ease the financial burden aspiring teachers face in paying for their education. Applicants are asked to submit an essay detailing how the plan to change the world through education, with the winning applicant being awarded a $10,000 scholarship.

First year doctoral student Kimberley Pfeifer was our inaugural scholarship winner, using the awarded funds towards her degree at Umass Amherst where she is studying Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies with a focus on Children, Families, and Schools.

This year we’re thrilled to announce incoming Vanderbilt University doctoral student Kelsey Daniels as our 2018 Aspiring Educator Scholarship winner. Kelsey will be pursuing her doctoral degree in Higher Educational Leadership and Policy at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College beginning in the summer 2018 semester. Her winning essay can be found below. Congratulations, Kelsey!


Motivis Learning 2018 Aspiring Educator Scholarship Essay

By Kelsey Daniels

Born and raised in the middle of the corn fields of rural Illinois, I am a product of one of the many middle-class families in small-town America. Small-town America—where your last name means more than your first, and the whole town probably knows your family history better than you do. To many of my friends and family in rural Illinois, the pursuit of a doctorate in education seems a rather unique endeavor. In fact, my father finished his formal schooling after 12th grade, and my mother waited to finish college until 2005. Thus, when the time came for me to apply to colleges, I felt slightly alone and ill-equipped for the task. I was determined to go to college, but I didn’t have the savings necessary to afford it on my own. So I applied to three nearby schools that had my major and offered generous scholarship packages, and I chose to attend Illinois State University (ISU).

Since graduating from ISU, I’ve developed an interest in language documentation which has spurred me to travel far beyond Illinois’s sweeping plains to the shores of Madang Province, Papua New Guinea (PNG). Upon first glance, PNG and Illinois would seem worlds apart. However, in the months that I’ve spent listening to, transcribing, and translating Papua New Guineans’ stories, I’ve come to see some of the similarities between our backgrounds. For example, on one fieldwork trip, I met a young man I’ll call Joseph. Joseph was a highly motivated student who became one of the only children in his village to have ever completed Grade 12. After high school, he was resolute in his decision to go to university, and indeed, he enrolled and attended for one semester. But, he soon contracted tuberculosis and was forced to drop out. When I met Joseph in 2016, he was back in the village running a trade store out of his house to earn money to return to college. Despite Joseph’s determination, his journey has taken much longer and been much more difficult than he anticipated.

Unfortunately, Joseph’s difficulty in successfully completing university is not unique. On another linguistic fieldwork trip in 2016, I met individually with Dr. Jillian Thiele, Director of the Learning Centre at Pacific Adventist University, and Dr. Maretta Kula-Semos, Vice President for Research and Postgraduate Studies at Divine Word University. Both of them discussed the difficulties that many Papua New Guinean students face when they arrive at university. While these students are revered in their home villages for being one of the few who have successfully made it to university, once classes begin, they often find themselves lacking the academic English, time management, and study skills necessary to successfully complete their degrees. This becomes a challenge not only for the students but also for the professors who lack the time and resources to adequately support them.

My experiences in PNG, my conversations with Joseph, and my own life path have fostered a desire to address these access and persistence problems in higher education. To achieve this goal, I want to create a scholarship program particularly for students from underserved and underrepresented backgrounds. My vision for the award program is that winners would accept the scholarship with the understanding that they would be assigned a mentor (who is a scholarship recipient in their junior year of college) to tutor and guide them through their first two years of university. Then, two years later, these scholarship winners would also be assigned first-year mentees whom they would shepherd. In the final year of the program, award winners could 1) be partnered with a volunteer mentor from the community to help prepare them for the job market and 2) attend an alumni networking dinner held each spring. The scholarship program will be run by a director and staff employed by a chosen university. This team will be responsible for fundraising, scholar recruitment, volunteer recruitment, and facilitation of the mentoring program. Once the first scholarship program has been successfully started at a chosen university, this model could be replicated at other universities.

To change the world through education is not simple; to endeavor to do it alone would be an enormous task. However, if there is anything that growing up in small-town America taught me, it’s that there is great power in community. In my little town of Taylorville, my best friends’ moms were also my school teachers—and, they were my basketball coaches and swim team coaches and newspaper route helpers. They were my mentors each and every day, and they changed my world for the better. Now I can see, if I want to change the world through education, it will never be the task of one changing the many, but of many changing the one.