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College of Education 2023 Scholarships Banquet Celebrates Support For Students

Scholarship Banquet Participants

On March 30, 2023, the NC State College of Education held its annual banquet to celebrate scholarships in the college —  those who receive them, those who administer them and the donors who make those scholarships possible.

College of Education Dean Paola Sztajn highlighted the many ways that scholarships can change lives and that, as a scholarship recipient herself, she knows how they can remove financial barriers so students can enter the field of education. 

“I’ve especially come to see how important scholarships are for the success of our college and, by extension, the success of countless students and communities across North Carolina,” Sztajn said. 

Three College of Education students also had the opportunity to share how scholarships have impacted their paths to becoming educators.

Their stories are below:

Jahzar Fields

Jahzar Fields at podium.

Jahzar Fields, a first-year middle grades English language arts and social studies education major, grew up in a low-income area of Wilmington, North Carolina. His earliest memories of school were of teachers who did their best despite a lack of basic resources and broader issues throughout the school district. 

However, an opportunity to attend Wilmington Early College High School provided Fields with the chance to succeed academically and earn his associate’s degree. There, he also developed his passion for supporting others. He served as a school ambassador, volunteered in low-income, high-need communities as a youth counselor and was a superintendent and Board of Education student advisor, where he advocated for the amplification of students’ voices.

Despite the success he achieved as a high school student, he was unsure if college would be an option for him.

“The odds of making it out are stacked against you and can seem impossible if done alone,” Fields said.

Fields, however, was not alone. His history teacher, Mrs. Gray, knew he needed financial support and that he cared about supporting his community, so she directed him toward the NC State College of Education’s Transformational Scholarships Program. Supported by the Anonymous Trust, the program provides scholarships totaling $40,000 over four years to high school students from eastern North Carolina who will return to the region to teach.  This program allowed Fields to attend NC State and pursue his future as a teacher in Eastern North Carolina.

“NC State supports me financially of course, but also academically and personally,” Fields said. “This support, this show of belief in people, is what gives them a breath of relief.”

In the Transformational Scholarships Program, Fields has had opportunities to engage in workshops that will strengthen his teaching skills, work with veteran mentors in the field of education and speak with educational leaders, such as administrators who attended the NC State Principal Preparation Leadership Conference and Reunion. These experiences, Fields hopes, will allow him to make a greater impact as a teacher in eastern North Carolina. 

“It helps me sharpen my craft and gain the knowledge and expertise to go back to my community and help prepare the next leaders of tomorrow,” Fields said. 

Brenda Rios

Brenda Rios at podium

“Estamos orgullosos de ti. Siguele echando muchas ganas.” That’s what Brenda Rios’ parents told her when she was accepted into NC State. The words translate to: “We are proud of you, keep pushing through.” Rios, a senior elementary education major from Sampson County, said she will never forget them.

“They made me realize that being accepted to NC State was an accomplishment and honor to myself, my parents and the Mexican community I represent,” Rios said.

Right to left: Julie Poovey, donor Kathy Montague, Julie's mother; Brenda Rios, Norma Rios, Brenda's mother
Right to left: Julie Poovey, donor Kathy Montague, Julie’s mother; Brenda Rios, Norma Rios, Brenda’s mother

Once she was accepted, Rios was initially unsure if she would be able to attend the NC State College of Education. However, thanks to financial support in the form of the Suzanne Montague Ridgill Memorial Scholarship, the College of Education Student Scholarship and the Smithfield Foods Scholarship, she is currently a student teacher at Lincoln Heights Elementary School and will graduate in May. 

Not only is Rios preparing to enter the classroom as an elementary school teacher, but by attending NC State, she has also had the opportunity to serve as a mentor to students with similar backgrounds to her own. She accomplished this by serving as a mentor in the College of Education’s Leadership Institute for Future Teachers (LIFT) program, a five-day, invitational program for students of color, bilingual students and all students interested in teaching who are rising high school seniors in North Carolina.

“Many high school students I worked with were Hispanic, and it made me feel like I was talking to myself in high school,” Rios said. 

The students Rios worked with in the program have stayed in touch, some even reaching out for advice as they applied to college. 

“This, to me, was the most meaningful part of all, as they trusted me to guide them,” Rios said.

For Rios, being an educator is about being that guide for others. 

“I recognize my path to NC State, and to eventually becoming a teacher, was not just about my own journey,” Rios said. “It was about the journeys of many people around me — my siblings, my community, my future students — all of whom would see my choices and experiences as a possible roadmap of their future. “

Sandra Gall

Sandra Gall, a graduate student earning her Master of Arts in Teaching, grew up in a small Arizona town with one elementary school, one middle school, one high school and three stop lights. For Gall, it was her teachers who opened up her world. 

She remembers Mr. Halper, a dedicated theater arts teacher who arranged field trips to professional performances, and Mrs. Smith, who created a philosophy club for Gall and five other students to meet after school, where they pondered abstract ideas. Despite personal challenges Gall faced growing up, she had teachers who were there for her. 

“I was never visited by a magical fairy godmother who could wave a wand and make everything picture-perfect, but I had something much better,” said Gall. “I had school and I had teachers who saw in me things I might never have seen in myself without their gaze. Teachers who waved their pens like magic wands — teachers who drew stars and smiley faces on my homework. Teachers who encouraged me to be and do more, to think big ideas and who gave me a love of learning instead of a pair of glass slippers.”

In the decades that followed, Gall earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature with a minor in theater, as well as a master’s degree in English. She also raised four children, two of whom are enrolled at NC State. It was her children who finally inspired her to become an educator, like the educators who helped foster her love for learning years ago. 

“My children are a large part of why I chose to go into teaching,” Gall said. “They have always taken their studies very seriously and I have been fortunate to have the skills and knowledge to help them whenever they needed it.”

At first, she was uncertain whether earning her Master of Arts in Teaching was the right decision. But then, she learned she had received a scholarship, the College of Education’s Master of Arts in Teaching Award.

“A scholarship says, ‘I see you.’ It says, ‘I believe in you.’ And that is something that students of all ages need to hear,” Gall said. 

Now, she is preparing to be the type of teacher who opens her students’ eyes to the possibilities ahead of them.

“What I am learning will help me to put my life experiences to their highest and best use,” Gall said. “Children need passionate teachers in their schools, people like Mr. Halper and Mrs. Smith, who make learning fun and schools safe. The education I am receiving here will help me to walk in the footsteps of the incredible teachers who inspired me.”