Scholarship winners assist students through diversity-related organizations
Kristina Hunter and Christina Walker already know they want to help people after they graduate from Penn State. With two years remaining until that milestone occurs, they are very comfortable starting early.Much of their time is spent completing classes in the College of Education’s five-year Integrated Undergraduate-Graduate (IUG) program. They each will earn a bachelor’s degree in special education; Hunter’s master’s degree will be in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in language and literacy education, while Walker’s graduate degree will be in education and public policy.
Their other available hours – and there aren’t many – are spent concentrating on others instead of themselves. BLUEprint is a campus organization that provides academic, social and cultural support to first-year and/or change-of-campus students of color, and Hunter and Walker are deeply involved.
“Our purpose is to increase the retention rate of first-year students of color on Penn State’s University Park campus,’’ said Hunter, who grew up in Philadelphia.
BLUEprint’s mentors are students who have completed at least one year at University Park and mentees are first-year students who might be having difficulties getting used to the large campus and the many opportunities and choices that accompany it.
“It has been my outlet for fun, an opportunity to give back to my university by helping students of color feel welcome and get acquainted, and a space of learning,’’ said Walker, a resident of Queens, New York. “I love seeing people of color work together and support one another and everyone in BLUEprint does just that with this family-oriented feel.“Being around so many brilliant, talented and loving black, Asian and Latina women, I have grown stronger and more confident in myself as a growing black woman and I have to credit my growth to the friendship shared among other women in BLUEprint,’’ she said.
Aiding others isn’t the only thing Walker and Hunter have in common; each received financial aid when they were named recipients of the College of Education’s Susan and Charles Martin Trustee Scholarship in Education.
“Receiving the Martin Trustee Scholarship in Education gave me such a gratifying feeling of accomplishment,’’ Walker said. “I honestly was surprised when I received the email and probably sat staring at the email in awe. The scholarship really reminded me to keep working hard because hard work pays off.’’
Hunter’s academic future also got an assist by receiving the scholarship. “My family and I are extremely grateful for Mr. and Mrs. Martin selecting me to be one of the recipients of their trustee scholarship, Hunter said. “Mr. and Mrs. Martin inspire me to financially support College of Education students by developing a scholarship fund of my own in the future.
“I think it is important to invest in college students because going to college is a privilege and a way for some students to better themselves. Developing a scholarship to help future College of Education students who demonstrate the need for additional support would be my way of continuing Mr. and Mrs. Martin’s legacy,’’ she said.
Hunter’s schedule stretches well beyond BLUEprint. She is a work-study employee at the Office of Multicultural Programs for the College of Education, a student liaison for the Paul Robeson Cultural Center (PRCC) Advisory Board, and a collaborator on the WE ARE ONE committee with efforts to unify all students of color.
“One thing that I learned is how easy it is to let activities and other obligations consume your life so I decided to pick a few activities to focus on and grow within the organizations,’’ Hunter said. “I enjoy mentoring students, being a reliable resource, making decisions and combating social justice issues.’’
Walker also was able to assist other students when she was a New Student Orientation leader. “I remember feeling older and wiser when I finished my last day on the job because I experienced and learned so much about myself, working with others and the University,’’ she said.
“One of my favorite times to talk was with my small group. My favorite conversation was the one on diversity because it helped me come to terms with how I feel about being a student of color on a predominantly white campus and how I cope with that.
“I am still proud and amazed at myself at how transparent I was able to be with my students, who were strangers to me at the time, and how I was able to get my students to think about race, religion, gender and whatever else came up in our discussion in a new way. That had to be one of the most valuable experiences I have had at Penn State so far,’’ Walker said.Hunter has had the privilege of experiencing educational travel through BLUEprint. Trips designed to enhance students’ knowledge of multicultural history have taken her to Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; Birmingham, Alabama; Memphis, Tennessee; and Hilton Head Island and Charleston in South Carolina as well as Greensboro, North Carolina.
“I learned so much about my culture and the experiences of my ancestors by visiting the National Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, the Old Slave Museum in Charleston and the Boone Hall Plantation in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, just to name a few,’’ Hunter said.
“By hosting these spring-break exploratory trips, BLUEprint gave me the opportunity to visit cities that I have never been to and also recognize the historical significance of these places that I can share with my future students.’’
Hunter, a Dean’s List student who will graduate in 2018, said she wants to be a teacher who believes in her students and pushes them to do their best, traits that two of her favorite teachers exhibited while she was growing up. She believes she’ll be ready when the time comes.
“The College of Education has an excellent teacher preparation program, which is why I decided to apply to Penn State,’’ Hunter said. “Penn State’s College of Education is known for producing well-trained and professional teachers.’’
Walker wants to return to Queens to best use her teaching degree, and she has her own job description well in mind. “We (teachers) shape character, build on academic and social skills, act as a mentor, advocate and so much more,’’ she said. “I want to empower my students to be the best individuals inside and outside of the classroom. I want them to know my expectations are high but it’s only because I know they can do it and they are all capable of excellence.
“I want my students to know they are important, valued and able to do whatever they want with some direction and focus, and to feel confident in their ability to succeed academically regardless of prior school years. I want to spark the minds of our future leaders,” she said.
“The College of Education has really given me some great teachers who taught me how important right now is in preparing to work with students with and without special needs,’’ Walker added. “Most of my teachers in the College have always reminded me how what I learn now will help me work with students later.
“I appreciate that because it makes the course work I’m doing more meaningful once I think about how applicable it is to what I want to do in the future.’’
Jim Carlson (May 2016)