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Rockefeller Fund Taps Two Mount Teachers in Training for Fellowships

April 28, 2008 -- Two future teachers studying at Mount Saint Mary’s University (MSMU) have been awarded prestigious Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) 2008 Fellowships for Aspiring Teachers of Color. As part of the fellowships, the students commit to teaching in needy public schools for three years. Each year, a maximum of 25 students across the nation are awarded fellowships.

MSMU juniors Karina Contreras and Lourdes Perez were awarded fellowships this spring, bringing the College's number of Rockefeller scholars to 30 since the program began in 1992. MSMU counts more RBF fellowship recipients than any other institution nationwide.

The Rockefeller fellowships aim to increase the number of highly-qualified teachers of color in K-12 public education. MSMU students Contreras and Perez say they hope to return as teachers to public schools from their own neighborhoods—schools where they first experienced educators who empower and inspire young children.

"Karina and Lourdes embody the spirit of the Rockefeller teaching fellowships as they prepare for teaching careers in urban public schools in Los Angeles," says Jacqueline Powers Doud, MSMU president. "Both of these young women have clearly and consistently demonstrated leadership qualities that will contribute to their becoming change agents in their schools, their communities, and in the field of education."

The students will develop and implement an education-related summer project and present their projects at a workshop in Washington, D.C. They also will receive up to $22,100 in financial assistance to attend graduate school.

Contreras, a liberal studies major, grew up in downtown Los Angeles in a family of six children of Mexican-born parents. She hopes to return to teach at Betty Plasencia Elementary School, where as a fifth grader she was mentored by an enthusiastic teacher. "I want to be that change in children's lives," says Contreras, who graduated from the Downtown Magnets High School and transferred to MSMU from Pasadena City College. "I want to make children feel like—no matter who they are or where they come from—they are capable of doing great work. They need someone to believe in them."

Perez '09, a child development major, is a lifelong resident of the city of San Fernando. Her parents were born in Mexico, and Perez and her two older sisters are the family's first generation of college-goers. Perez says her kindergarten teacher first sparked her desire to become an educator. "I remember as a child mimicking her and pretending to drink from a coffee cup like her," she says. "I don't consider teaching a job—I have always dreamed of being a child's hero."

In 2008, there are 25 RBF winners from 15 colleges and universities, including Brown, Duke, Emory, Howard, MSMU, Pace, Pomona, Spelman, Swarthmore, Texas State, UC Riverside, University of St. Thomas, Wellesley, Williams, and Yale.

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