San Diego, California - As the first in her family to attend a four-year university, Sierra Turner learned that it takes heart and commitment to achieve success. Upon graduating from UC San Diego in 2009, she worked for two years with underserved students at an elementary school in Vista. Burdened by the reality that she had educational opportunities that many of her students lacked, she decided to join Teach for America a national nonprofit whose mission is to improve educational equity. Turner is one of 37 UC San Diego alumni who have been selected this year to teach in some of the nation’s most underserved schools.
“It comes as no surprise that so many of our graduates have been chosen as Teach For America educators this year. They’re service-oriented leaders who are passionate about educational equity,” said Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “Our alumni educators will carry on the university’s mission of public service and make a difference in the lives of our nation’s youth.”
The number of UC San Diego graduates admitted to the Teach For America program has doubled since 2009. On average, only 12 to15 percent of applicants from each university are chosen to participate in the highly selective program. Of the 132 UC San Diego candidates who applied, however, 28 percent were selected this year. In addition to gaining a salaried teaching position with health benefits, corps members are eligible for exclusive fellowships and scholarships at Teach For America partner universities. Program alumni are also often highly sought after by graduate schools and employers for their leadership and service experience. There is also an option to complete a master’s degree as a corps member, with grants and loan forbearance support available.
Corps members are placed in urban and rural schools with the highest need across the country, from Los Angeles to Detroit and Philadelphia. Turner, who chose San Diego as her top placement choice, will begin teaching this fall at a City Heights charter school. Her commitment to educational equity began when she was a political science student at UC San Diego. “Being part of the student culture on campus instilled in me a passion for and commitment to social justice,” she said. “I know that the habits and skills I developed as a student at UC San Diego will be incredibly valuable as I begin teaching.”
“Each year, more of our students are accepted into Teach For America, many of them from the ranks of Associated Students, the undergraduate student government at UC San Diego,” said Gary Ratcliff, assistant vice chancellor of Student Life. “I believe Teach For America is a meaningful outlet for our service-oriented students. Just like placement into the Peace Corps, acceptance into Teach For America provides an intensive transformative service experience for our graduates and advances the mission of the university as a service-oriented institution.”
Last week, Turner joined four other UC San Diego alumni who will be teaching this year in San Diego, as well as other regional corps members, to learn about the work already happening in local school districts. Their orientation included a visit to the Barrio Logan College Institute, Chicano Park, the Malcom X Library, as well as the UC San Diego Cross Cultural Center.
“I want to invest in my city and my community in a way that will make a lasting impact,” said Turner, who grew up in Valley Center. “I hope to celebrate and harness the incredible diversity in San Diego in order to open doors and provide opportunities for students that have been struggling to succeed.”
The San Diego Teach For America site is headed by David Lopez, a UC San Diego alumnus who grew up in San Diego and experienced firsthand the educational disparities that exist. After graduating in 2010, Lopez joined Teach For America as a corps member in Houston for two years before returning to San Diego as executive director to help launch the new program branch last year.
“UC San Diego students possess the qualities that we look for in our teachers—incredible academic achievement, outstanding leadership skills and an orientation toward social service and justice,” said Lopez. “Although several factors go into determining what region our corps members are assigned to, we strive to match teachers with communities that they are familiar with and feel most connected to, so it’s great to have so many UC San Diego students working with San Diego youth.”
Originally from Pasadena, Calif., Katey Solzberg—who graduated this June from Marshall college with a human development degree—will join the staff at Value Schools in Los Angeles as a Teach For America educator. She developed a foundation for community service through her sorority, Delta Delta Delta, but it wasn’t until she discovered Teach For America that she knew where to channel her interests and give back.
“When I first heard the inspiring story of corps members from a Teach For America alumnus, something just clicked in me,” said Solzberg, who will concurrently work towards her master’s degree in education through Loyola Marymount University. “I believe the program has made amazing strides to provide an excellent education to all children, and I knew that it was a movement I wanted to be a part of.
Solzberg will take part in a five-week training session with other Los Angeles corps members this month. In addition to an introduction to regional communities and schools, the preparation will include teaching practice summer school classes, developing student achievement goals and shadowing veteran teachers in her grade level.
“I look forward to serving the community of Los Angeles and providing my students with an excellent education and the greatest opportunity for success possible,” she said.