University third-highest contributor for Teach for America in 2016

Tuesday, September 13, 2016 - 7:50pm

This year, 44 University of Michigan graduates joined Teach for America, making the University the third highest contributor to the program of any college or university in 2016.

Since TFA’s founding 25 years ago, the University has been the highest overall contributor of corps members, with more than 1,000 members total. Teach for America is a two-year program for graduates from any background to become teachers and learn about the challenges facing the education system, placing them at low-income public schools. The program has received both praise and criticism for its work. 

Carly Chittim, director of prospect communications at TFA, works closely with a group of schools, including the University. She said the University’s high alumni involvement — with 42 joining last year — signifies the passion of University students.

“Teach for America enlists the most talented, ambitious and diverse leaders from across the country,” she said. “Knowing that the University of Michigan has, over time, contributed the most amount of corps members — and this year it was in the top third — just really highlights the leadership and the passion and the drive that we see from Michigan student leaders.”  

Chittim also noted that she as excited by the demographic diversity of the 2016 corps members from the University. Of the 44 new corps members, 43 percent identified as people of color and 31 percent identified as the first in their family to graduate college.

“I think that’s always awesome to highlight, given that diversity is one of our core values and something that oftentimes drives and draws top leaders to Teach for America,” she said.

Michael Chrzan graduated from LSA in 2016 with a teaching certificate from the School of Education. Originally from Detroit, he is now teaching high school in the city through TFA. He said it was nice to stay connected to the city while at the University because it made it easier to return.

“One of the great things that Michigan offers, especially with things like the Detroit Connecter, are opportunities to get to the city,” he said. “Being at Michigan helped me stay very connected to the city so that now that I’ve started, I’ve come back home, I’m teaching here, it’s pretty much a seamless transition back.”

Chrzan also said the high number of applicants indicates the school’s dedication to serve its community.

“It really shows our dedication to public service,” he said. “I think a lot of public universities don’t necessarily have that mantra completely present — that service that we’re dedicated to the public that has founded and maintained us. I do believe that at Michigan — even though it’s not a requirement — most graduates leave school with the dedication and the skills to make the world better in some way.”

Another alum, Molly Cohen, studied at the Ford School of Public Policy and graduated in 2011, after which she immediately went to work for Teach for America in New York City.

She said she became interested in social welfare policies, specifically eliminating poverty, during her junior year at the University, calling quality education the long-term solution to the effectiveness of such social policies.

“I decided that the policy route was too slow for me,” she said. “I wanted to make a direct impact right away.”

Cohen taught first and third grade at a Success Academy Charter School for four years, before becoming the school’s assistant principal and, as of October 2015, the head principal. Through TFA, she also got her graduate degree in teaching.

She said she owes the University for giving her a new mindset and inspiring her to pursue education.

“I would say that my education at the University of Michigan really changed my worldview,” she said. “The semesters leading up to me applying to TFA, I studied different oppressive structures that are in place in our country. It just really changed who I was and what I cared about. My career is completely connected to closing the opportunity gap.”

University alum Annie Thomas, who graduated in 2010 and currently works as the recruitment manager for Teach For America at Michigan, emphasized TFA is open to a variety of backgrounds on campus.

“What we try to do is give people many opportunities throughout the year to engage with Teach for America and learn more about out our programs,” she said. “We’re happy to include everyone from all majors, backgrounds, interest levels to potentially consider joining a program like Teach for America.”