Investing in the future
Last year, the College of Education awarded more than $400,000 in scholarships to 200 aspiring educators. The majority of these gifts were funded by generous Redbird educators and their families. Behind each gift is an inspiring story, and Illinois State’s passionate education majors help write the next chapters.
The college hosts the annual Scholarships Ceremony to celebrate donors and recipients alike. More importantly, the event enables them to meet and forge meaningful bonds. Many stay in contact with each other for years, some even decades. But these relationships often begin at the ceremony.
Math always came easy for Carly Pietro ’17. The new Redbird alumna wants to help her students have the same experience.
“As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher. I love the profession. Being able to explain math concepts in a way that helps struggling learners understand them is so rewarding,” she said.
Her words echo those of Edna Bazik ’69, a two-time Illinois State alumna whose career in math education spans 40 years (and counting). She taught and developed the curricula for several districts before joining the University’s Department of Mathematics. Now retired, Bazik’s passion has not waned. She teaches aspiring educators at National Louis University part time and also supervises many of Illinois State’s student teachers.
For her, deciding to endow a scholarship was the next logical step in her relationship with the University.
“I had a wonderful experience here as a mathematics major and later as a teacher educator,” Bazik said. “I appreciated the great instructors I had and the scholarships I received. It was time for me to give back to Illinois State University, to provide similar opportunities for students like Carly.”
Pietro is the fifth recipient of the Edna F. Bazik Endowed Mathematics Teaching Scholarship, which was established in 2011. The funds helped her focus on student teaching in Illinois State’s yearlong Professional Development School (PDS) program.
“PDS was a wonderful, intense opportunity, but interns are highly encouraged to put all of their energy into the program,” Pietro said. “I’ve always had a job, so not having one was stressful. Once I heard I had received this scholarship, it was a weight lifted.”
As well as providing financial support, Bazik is a mentor for Pietro. The veteran educator serves as a sounding board and has connected her recipient with state and national math education organizations.
“It’s wonderful to talk with an expert in my content area. Teaching is challenging, but it’s much less so with Dr. Bazik in my corner.”
Pietro says, like Bazik, she’s aiming high and will never forget the support she received.
“Her career in education is amazing. I hope to have near her level of success one day, and to be able to help a student that is in my position.”
Daniel Jackson was recruited by colleges across the country before deciding on Illinois State. He says the choice to become a Redbird was based on two factors.
“First, I grew up in Englewood (Chicago), and I saw a lot of students that needed help in my community. Many did not receive the opportunities or support I did. And if I can’t change the situation in my own neighborhood, there’s no point going anywhere else,” he said.
“And secondly, Illinois State prepares the best teachers for this state.”
Jackson, now a senior elementary education major, first received the Bowman Fellows Endowment as a sophomore, and it was renewed for his final two years. The award provides high achieving education majors from underrepresented groups with both financial support and cultural and leadership training.
“I am constantly inspired by others involved with this program, and I am always taking away something new from it.”
Fellows regularly meet to discuss the injustices they witness, experience, or see in the media, and they also attend and lead workshops and focus groups.
“One day, the topic could be religion, or sexual orientation, or urban education—things people don’t often talk about. Those discussions allow us to be more culturally competent and responsive to the community at large,” he said.
Among those who work with the fellows are Al Bowman, Illinois State’s 17th president.
“Dr. Bowman is such an inspiring person, and it was an honor to receive an award named for him,” he said. The students’ first line of faculty support is Pamela Hoff, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations.
“Dr. Pam is a great source no matter what we are dealing with. And she is constantly sharing different opportunities with us to see if we could be a part of them or just attend,” he said.
Jackson was part of a group that organized the University’s Culturally Responsive Campus Community (CRCC) Conference in 2016. The annual event is open to faculty, staff, and students alike, and it is one of several University-wide efforts aimed at providing a more equitable experience for everyone at Illinois State. Now just one year from graduating, Jackson is grateful the Bowman Fellowship has been such a large part of his preparation as a teacher.
“Every day I try to learn something new. It’s a goal I adopted from my grandparents many years ago,” Jackson said. “I am constantly inspired by others involved with this program, and I am always taking away something new from it.”