Student Spotlights

Kelsey Cullinan

Kelsey Cullinan (Class of 2021)

Oswego, N.Y.

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During the 2019-2020 Christmas recess, Niagara University teacher candidates Megan Westbrook and Kelsey Cullinan traveled to Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, Alabama. While in Huntsville, Megan and Kelsey spent time with Niagara alumnus and AAMU professor Chaz Gonzalez.

Megan and Kelsey, along with some of their College of Education classmates, had engaged in an email exchange with students of AAMU’s Foundations of Education course. Both courses’ students read DreamKeepers by Gloria Ladson-Billings

This trip allowed Niagara University teacher candidates to be further exposed to how a group of teacher candidates from a different social economic status perceive social-emotional learning and culturally relevant teaching in middle school.

Megan and Kelsey both gained knowledge and applications of the dual objective and guided inquiry learning models. Of equal importance, Kelsey reflects on the “Vincentian” learnings of the experience of planning and executing the trip.

St. Vincent de Paul said, “Let us do our duty well; let us go straight to God; let us work to become very humble, very patient, very mortified, and very charitable.”[i] This trip has been an exercise in humility. I sat and spoke with students who were semester behind me in coursework, and had completed less field hours, but were degrees beyond me in life experience. I have been called, in the Vincentian charism, by God to serve the poor youth of our nation through education. The students I was fortunate enough to meet with were products of the very system I have been called to serve in. Just as importantly, these students have reached a reflective stage, through the lens of academic evidence, and have analyzed their experience.

It was not until this trip that I realized the gaps I had in my education thus far. I have not engaged in nearly enough conversations with teacher candidates who are minority students who graduated from the nation’s inner-city schools. I have spent time working with the inner-city impoverished youth of Niagara Falls, Syracuse, New York City, and Philadelphia. I had begun to put techniques into practice without the background knowledge I am only now beginning to have.

Niagara has shown be that to be Vincentian is to bring the love of Christ to the poor: the financially poor, the spiritually poor, the educationally poor, and the emotionally poor. As a Vincentian I needed to hear the stories and opinions of AAMU’s students. In order to do my duty well, I need to go to God, and be humble. This trip has shown me just how little I know, but how great the possibilities are.

The Vincentian charism does not exist in an educational vacuum. I learned on this trip how many college students, who wish to serve the poor, face nearly insurmountable barriers on their road to service. Niagara has eliminated many boundaries, and I have been blessed enough not to face many others. However, students across the nation, and especially at AAMU, are facing countless boundaries.

  • I have found a new service avenue, and that is with my peers, near and far.
  • I have been inspired to seek to have these conversations more frequently. We are fortunate enough to have sister schools and neighboring schools with similar candidate populations as AAMU. These conversations will be crucial as the University prepares to send out more teacher candidates.
  • I have learned more than I could have ever expected, in aspects of the field I never considered, and have still more to learn.

In closing, it has been a blessing from God to be able to travel to Alabama. This trip has better equipped me to serve the children I have been called to. St. Vincent de Paul said, “God allows us to give rise to the practice of two beautiful virtues: perseverance, which leads us to attain the goal, and constancy, which helps us to overcome difficulties.” I will need both these virtues as I move forward and hope to instill them in my students.

Kelsey Cullian and Megan Westbrook

Megan Westbrook is a junior math education major planning to student teach next fall. She has experience with social-emotional learning in middle school classrooms. Megan has spent time in urban and suburban middle schools and high schools.

Kelsey Cullinan has spent time in urban middle schools and elementary schools. She has experience with culturally relevant teaching, specifically for students in poverty. Kelsey also has experience with at-risk, inner-city youth.