After suffering a traumatic brain injury in a traffic accident in 2012, Felisha Olmos was told by doctors that finishing her college degree wasn’t possible.
She refused to accept the prognosis and set out to prove them wrong. With determination and grit, Olmos completed her bachelor’s in mathematics from UC Santa Barbara then decided to pursue a credential to become a math teacher.
Earning a teaching credential has its own set of challenges, but a Partners in Education (PIE) Fellowship is easing the financial strain and moving Olmos one step closer to having her own classroom.
Olmos was one of 17 credential students who accepted fellowships at the 11th Annual Sponsor a Future Teacher Awards Dinner on Feb. 23 at The Restaurant at Kellogg Ranch. Students received scholarships of up to $5,000 as they complete two terms of demanding clinical practice.
At the awards dinner, university President Soraya M. Coley commended the students for choosing this career path, reminding them of the full impact they will have on a child’s life.
“I still remember the names of my teachers from all 12 years,” Coley said. “Never think that what you do is routine. We need you to provide guidance and support and help launch these students.”
The speeches from the students resonated with heartfelt thanks, not only for the financial support, but the motivation it gave them to succeed.
“A lot of students don’t realize the potential they have. I was one of those students,” said recipient Cristal Sanchez, who plans to teach math at the high school level. “I want to encourage them and help them learn the skills to become lifelong learners.”
Four of the fellowships were provided by the Felzer family, which has sponsored 20 fellowships in the last five years and is noted as PIE’s sponsor of distinction. The family uses the fellowships to pay homage to the late Alan Felzer, professor emeritus of computer science. The PIE board also raises funds for the fellowships. Since 2007, PIE has raised $700,000 and provided fellowships for 145 teacher candidates.
For some recipients, teaching has been a lifelong career goal; for others, it’s a second career. Brian Vaughn left the U.S. Postal Service after nearly two decades to pursue teaching at the elementary school level, while Robert Grant worked in various industries for 12 years before returning to school to earn a single subject math credential. Even with their diverse backgrounds, there is a common thread among the recipients: they are passionate about making a difference.
At the end of the night, Sue Johnson, superintendent of the Savanna School District and chair of the PIE board, offered words of wisdom to the fellows.
“As you work with students every day, remember that it is the legacies of all those who have come before you that you’ll build on,” Johnson said. “Help to build dreams and shape futures for all those who will follow you.”