COLUMBUS, Miss. -- Karen Lott, W class of 2013, aspires to be an effective policy maker one day. In order to realize her goal, the political science major is getting ground-level experience through a national service organization.
Lott is among only a few graduates and professionals nationwide chosen by Teach For America (TFA), an organization that recruits a diverse group of leaders with a record of achievement to teach for two years in a low-income community.
The national nonprofit is one of the largest educational-leadership programs in the country and has seen applications jump from nearly 25,000 in 2008 to almost 48,500 today, according to a March 2012 Bloomberg Businessweek article. “Those applicants include students from some of the nation’s most elite colleges and universities, including 17 percent of the graduating class at Harvard and 13 percent of the seniors at Brown,” the article stated.
With an acceptance rate of about 10 to 15 percent, Lott is one of the chosen ones. This fall, the 22-year-old from Leakesville heads to the Canton Public School District to teach high school English. She is doing so through TFA’s alternative route to certification.
“I cannot be an effective policy maker if I have never been in a classroom,” she said.
The job will come with some challenges, and Lott is preparing herself for the task at hand.
This summer she will train in the classroom in the Delta for five weeks. She also will go through training specific to the Mississippi region for two weeks. Lott also spent the spring semester performing pre-work, including classroom observation hours.
“I am going in with a positive attitude,” she said, adding, “I’ve also been trying to catch up on what I feel an English teacher needs to read: British literature and contemporary American literature.”
Serving others has always been a calling for Lott. Over the past few years, she explored the possibility of working with service programs such as Teach For America and even AmeriCorps.
“I’ve felt like I’ve always been given a lot,” she said. “The Idea of community service was solidified here at The W. I see what the educators do here for our students.”
She serves on the Hearin Council under the Hearin Leadership Program, which provides opportunities for scholarship, leadership development and community service. She volunteered with HEARTS (Helping Every Age Reach and Teach Students), a local after school tutoring program.
Last summer Lott interned in Washington, D.C., where she worked with an education policy non-profit called For the Love of Children and took for-credit seminars through The Washington Center.
As part of her internship, she worked with high school students doing mock interviews and ACT preparation. She also worked with college students, enhancing their resumes and putting on workshops about succeeding in college.
“I really liked that,” she said. Her advice to students: “Make those connections with your faculty,” she said noting that many of them don’t take advantage of the resources available to them.
She added, “In today’s world, it’s really not enough to have a degree. Success is about being a well-rounded person. We’re all leaders in some way. We’re all leaders in the way we lead our lives.”
Lott attributes her educational success to the relationships she has developed at The W. “If I had not come here, I would not have gotten that [Washington, D.C.] opportunity. This is a really supportive community.”
The transfer student made similar connections at Jones County Junior College, where she worked closely with the president. There she read research papers and helped students develop their writing skills.
She was later asked by the president to help tutor some members of the football team—a challenge she gladly accepted for three nights a week a whole semester.
Eventually, the girl who grew up in a small town with no red lights may go to law school. She believes her scores were competitive enough to gain entrance into a Mississippi university. Then again, one day you may find her serving as a policy maker to a senator or doing research for a non-profit.
Right now she is focused on the high school and students just a few hours away from her hometown. “This is going to be a challenge for me. I want to be a good teacher. I know that I will learn so much from this experience.”