a man leads a fitness class in a gym
This video series spotlights alumni who are using their careers to encourage and lift up young kids and college students—in the classroom, yes, but also in the gym, online, and through personal relationships.

Leading the charge for better education

At 4:30 a.m., Susan Keen found herself wide awake. After making some coffee, she set off on foot to Oakland International High School, where she teaches English and world history. But on this weekday, in her role as a labor representative, she was there to lead a strike, alongside her fellow teachers and students. 

In what was ultimately a successful strike and negotiation for more equitable compensation and smaller class sizes, Keen ’10, anthropology and political science, felt most proud about the example she set for her students, all recent newcomers to the United States. 

“My students joined me on the picket line,” says Keen, a former Sondheim Public Affairs Scholar. “I asked them to evaluate the risks and the goals of what we were doing, and they all chose to stand by me and next to me on the line. It was incredible to have their support. That’s such a highlight.”

Finding joy in the classroom

Keen is a classic Retriever Educator, she knows her actions in and out of the classroom matter to her students. Theresa Bruce, Baltimore City’s 2020 Teacher of the Year runner-up also takes an all-in approach to her students at KIPP Academy. 

“People don’t care what you know, until they know you care,” says Bruce ’09, political science and social work, “and that goes for my students.” She makes it a point to get to know her student scholars—a daunting task even before the era of distant learning— encouraging them to find their own passions like she found hers at UMBC through the support of professors and staff.

“So now, as an educator myself, I ask how I can best push and champion my students,” says Bruce, also a former Sondheim Scholar. “The biggest step I can take—and this doesn’t matter if you’re in a brick-and-mortar building or if you’re online—is to make a relationship. Yes, they’re harder to build virtually, but when young people can relate to you as a person, they’re more apt to try.”

Strengthening the mind, body, and community

Some teaching roles look different than a traditional classroom. For Joshua Day ’16, health administration and policy, he finds his purpose at MissionFit, a Baltimore gym that offers free fitness classes to youth in the city. Day—MissionFit’s executive director—wants the young gym members to develop confidence and self-acceptance, as well as important life skills such as goal setting, time management, and accountability. 

“It was during my junior or senior year at UMBC, that it became clear to me that it would be easier if I stopped trying to separate worlds and just integrated things together, and MissionFit is the way I get to do that,” Day says. It’s rare that so early in someone’s career they can have their ideal job, he shares. 

“But at MissionFit, we’re addressing health. We’re addressing health with youth. We’re really committed to the community of Baltimore. It completes my whole checklist.”

Inclusivity at the Ivies

Jamie Joshua ’02, M10, biological sciences, is using her institutional connections to reach a broad range of students as the director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. Joshua’s role is to create welcoming spaces for students and provide trainings for faculty and staff. In partnership with student affinity groups and the student council, Joshua advises on programming for equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives.

During the pandemic Joshua is working from her parents’ home in Ellicott City, but she is still connecting virtually with students to encourage their self care. Joshua models her advice by taking daily walks, often with her twin sister Aimee Joshua ’03, M10, computer science.

“Family is what I think of when I think of UMBC,“ says Joshua. “And as the child of immigrant parents, the Meyerhoff Scholars Program was able to give me the skillset to thrive in college.”  The sense of family Joshua felt at UMBC was compounded by rooming with her twin and welcoming her younger sister, Gina Joshua ’05, M13, biological sciences, to UMBC as well. In her current role, Joshua says she’ll feel successful if she can recreate that familial sense of belonging for her student groups at Cornell.

“We’re so proud to see our Retrievers take on so many educator roles, in the classroom and out,” says Stanyell Odom, director of Alumni Engagement. “It’s quickly apparent that these alumni and others like them go into their teaching careers, not only with the skills to teach, but also to learn from their students and coworkers.”

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All images and videos by Corey Jennings ’10.

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