Recent Pennsylvania State graduate Michael Sterling credits his time working at the Donald L. Heiter Community Center in Lewisburg for inspiring him to become one of 43 Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation Indiana Teaching Fellows for 2016.
"There they really emphasized a sense of community and everyone being equal," he said. One of the reasons why he applied for the fellowship in the first place was because it also emphasizes the importance of community.
According to Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation director of media relations and strategy Patrick Riccard, the program prepares individuals with backgrounds in science to teach in high-needs schools across the country.
Riccard explained the fellows will have "three years of mentorship and support" from established teachers in high-needs schools. The hope is the established teachers will pass down their knowledge and skills to the fellows so "they can succeed from day one."
This sense of community inspired Sterling, of Mifflinburg, to become a teacher in the first place. While in high school, he really enjoyed learning with his physics teacher but thought he was too "introverted" to become a teacher.
"I thought I wouldn't talk well in front of the students," Sterling said.
However, he changed his mind once he started to work part-time with the kids at the Donald L. Heiter Community Center, which provides the Lewisburg community with activities and programs for all ages, during his summer vacations and break year in college.
"They didn't judge anyone on preconceived notions," Sterling said. "It gave me a real world experience and taught me how my actions affect my students."
As he helped students with their homework and played with them, he grew more confident that "with a little bit of practice" he could become a good educator.
Sterling realized he wanted to share his passion for physics with other students so after graduating earlier this year, he applied for the fellowship.
Riccard said Sterling's "stellar background in community service" made him an ideal candidate for the fellowship.
He said, "candidates have to demonstrate that they want to be a part of the community long term."
For Sterling that shouldn't be a problem because he is excited to teach his students "kindness and community."
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