Kerrin O'Leary, a mathematics major in the Teacher Education Program, has been awarded Holy Cross' first ever Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship. Supported by the National Science Foundation, the scholarship encourages talented students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to become middle- and secondary-school teachers in these disciplines.
"The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Congress conceived this program as a way to address the great need in our country for teachers who are highly qualified to teach mathematics and science," said Professor Danuta Bukatko, chair of the Education Department and one of the principle investigators on the grant. "Holy Cross mathematics and science students in the Teacher Education Program take the same program of courses as students planning on going to doctoral programs and medical schools, alongside their courses in Education. Thus, they are meeting very well the objectives set out by this national program."
The honor, which provides O'Leary with $19,000 of scholarship support, requires that O'Leary spend at least two years in a high needs school or school district after graduation, though she said she'll "probably spend more."
On Nov. 8, O'Leary was honored with a luncheon attended by her parents, members of the Noyce Scholarship Committee, and Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J., president of Holy Cross. Among the others in attendance were O'Leary's high school mathematics teacher and the middle school teacher and principal who currently supervise her in student teaching.
"Kerrin was always in my room," said Pauline Toole, O'Leary's mathematics teacher at Fontbonne Academy in her hometown of Milton, Mass. "She and her friends were always coming in, getting help, and enjoying themselves. She's always worked very hard, and it's certainly paid off."
O'Leary said she knew shortly after arriving at Holy Cross that she wanted to become a teacher.
"Since freshman year, I had thought about becoming a middle school math teacher," she said. "I loved math and enjoyed tutoring in my high school's math support center. I also loved interacting with and babysitting middle school-aged kids. It seemed becoming a middle school math teacher would be perfect."
After opening remarks, Fr. McFarland led the small group in a prayer in O'Leary's honor. He highlighted O'Leary's "wonderful virtues" and her "intelligence, enthusiasm and care for others," concluding with the hope that "all the students [Kerrin] has served and will serve may come to see her wisdom and glory."
Once lunch had concluded, Beverley Bell, director of the Teacher Education Program, gave her thoughts on O'Leary's accomplishments.
"In Kerrin, I truly believe we see someone who is passionate about entering the teaching field, someone who wants to have a positive impact on the lives of others, and someone who truly lives the Jesuit mission — men and women for others," said Bell.
"She is aware of issues of diversity, race, class and inequality in our current education system. She believes that everyone can achieve — and she wants to play a role in that by working with these students, challenging them, encouraging them, learning from them, and to facilitate their ability to succeed. In this, she truly reflects the mission of our program and the Education department as a whole."
Candidates for the Noyce scholarship must be an upperclass math or science major, be enrolled in the Teacher Education Program, and maintain a high grade point average. The application process also involved teacher recommendations, the submission of a personal statement, and an interview.
O'Leary is involved in multiple organizations on campus, including the women's golf team, to which she attributes the patient demeanor she knows will be important in the future.
"Everything I have learned through golf will help me as a teacher," she said. "Patience, determination, sportsmanship, and teamwork are invaluable as a teacher. Through patience and determination, I can stay calm and make sure my students learn the curriculum and to respect one another."
She also noted that teamwork and togetherness are two major values she has come to appreciate, as "teachers work together for the good of the school and for the good of individual students."
O'Leary has far-reaching goals.
"Long term, I hope to become a leader in education through teacher development, curriculum development, or administration," she said.