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Three Recent UW-Eau Claire Grads
Begin Teach For America Assignments this Fall

RELEASED: Sept. 11, 2008

EAU CLAIRE — Three recent University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduates were accepted into the highly selective Teach For America program, a nationwide organization that recruits top college graduates to teach for two years in public schools that are difficult to staff.

Those selected for the program were Gina Livingston, who graduated December 2007 with a major in Spanish; Rebecca O'Brien, who graduated in May with majors in biology and Latin American studies; and Christopher Piper Nielson, who graduated in May with a major in political science.

They are the fourth, fifth and sixth students from UW-Eau Claire accepted into TFA since 2005, when Zachary Verriden became the first UW-Eau Claire student accepted.

The three graduates participated in Teach For America's intensive summer training programs, preparing for their fall teaching assignments.

Livingston, who came to UW-Eau Claire from Grafton and minored in teaching English as a foreign language, trained at TFA's Summer Institute in Houston. She taught a month of summer school while attending classes on diversity in the classroom, classroom management, leadership in the classroom, lesson planning and delivery, and other teaching-related topics.

This fall Livingston began teaching math and science in second-grade, English-as-a-second-language classrooms at Cole Art and Science Academy in Denver. She said she applied to TFA because she wanted to change the world one classroom at a time.

"During my undergraduate work, I had the chance to travel to Houston with a class and volunteer in a bilingual classroom," Livingston said. "It was in Houston that I saw firsthand a school that was affected by poverty and a lack of resources. Throughout my life I have had a 'cheering squad' of people pouring resources, knowledge and experiences into me. I have built up my confidence, independence and knowledge to equip me to give back. It is now my time to invest in my students and give them the same opportunities I had as a child."

O'Brien, a native of Duluth, Minn., who also attended the training in Houston this summer, said she joined TFA to invest in the lives of children in this country.

"I believe many social injustices we see in this country can be alleviated by investing in education," O'Brien said, adding that only half the students who grow up in poverty will graduate from high school, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. "Teach For America focuses on training teachers to help children attain the highest levels of academic excellence despite their economic situations."

At the end of August, O'Brien began teaching middle school science in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, an assignment she said will make good use of her majors in biology and Latin American studies and her Spanish language skills.

Nielson, from New Berlin, did his summer training in Philadelphia and is currently teaching remedial English to ninth graders in Philadelphia's inner city at Mastery Charter School/Pickett campus. He said he became interested in working in an urban setting when on a mission trip he met a young boy who was so traumatized from witnessing his father's murder as a 5-year-old child that he still couldn't read or write. After that, Nielson spent several summers helping at-risk youth in a homeless shelter in Milwaukee. He said he hopes to bring what he learns in TFA back to Wisconsin and work toward racial and economic justice in Milwaukee through urban development work.

"Working at the mission was by far the most challenging job I've ever had, but every night when I went to bed I never regretted it," said Nielson."Since I was not an education major, TFA was the next step for me to take in order to be a teacher."

Teach For America has more than 5,000 member teachers working in communities all over the country reaching 440,000 kids. The program experienced significant growth this year and will place 3,700 new teachers this fall, up from 2,900 last year. There also has been a surge in applications from college seniors. About 24,700 applied this spring, up from 18,000 last year. The nonprofit program sent its first recruits into American public school classrooms in 1990.

Don Mowry, director of the Center for Service-Learning, is available to talk about why UW-Eau Claire alumni are such strong candidates for Teach For America. He can be reached at 715-836-4649 or



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