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Why Gifts Matter: Scholarship Support Allows Ngoc “Emma” Burwell to Grow As Mathematics Educator

Headshot of Emma "Ngoc" Burwell with graphic text: I feel good that I can help people because I had somebody to help me

In Vietnam, Ngoc “Emma” Burwell earned a full scholarship to attend a college preparatory school where she excelled in high-level mathematics courses and graduated with the equivalent of a four-year degree in math and science. But when she immigrated to the United States and enrolled at Johnston Community College, none of her classes transferred, and she struggled with the language barrier. She might have quit if not for an instructor, Lynn Barker, who ensured she had the support she needed and reawakened her love for the field of education.

“She really helped me and supported me and put it back into my mind: I need to be a teacher to help English as a second language (ESL) students,” Burwell said.

Burwell went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in mathematics education from NC State’s College of Education in 2018 and become a mathematics teacher at Enloe High School. After her son entered high school — he is now enrolled in NC State’s College of Engineering — Burwell decided to return to NC State to pursue her Master of Education in mathematics education

“I wanted to go back to school and get an [advanced degree] because I feel like the more I know, the better for my students,” Burwell said.

For Burwell, who supports her family in Vietnam and works hard to balance her responsibilities as a student and teacher, financial support in the form of the Moshakos Family Teacher Education Graduate Fellowship made a meaningful difference.

 “It really helped me to have peace of mind and focus on what I need to do for my students, what I need to do for my family, instead of thinking about: How do I make extra money to pay for grad school?” Burwell said.

At Enloe, Burwell teaches AP Calculus AB/BC and Math 3/Math 4. In her courses, she has the opportunity to work with a greater number of ESL learners. 

“I really enjoy those students because they remind me of me,” Burwell said.

The lessons Burwell has learned at NC State, she said, help her connect with all the students she interacts with and inspire them to believe in themselves. 

“NC State really taught me that teaching isn’t just to tell [students] about math,” Burwell said. “It’s about making a connection. It is about knowing your students and taking the time to know them and support them. NC State did a great job preparing me for that.”

Burwell not only supports the students in her classroom. She also partnered with the Wake County Family Academy to create presentations for Vietnamese-speaking students and their families.

“I just feel like it’s a helpful thing for me to do, and I feel good that I can help people because I had somebody to help me,” Burwell said.