By Alex Finn-Atkins

Mayarita, can you please tell us a little about yourself? 

Sure! I am a Fordham College Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’16 alumna. While at Fordham, I double majored in applied mathematics and Spanish studies. My senior thesis for the honors program was a mathematical and sociological analysis of the intergenerational educational attainment of U.S. immigrants. 

I also studied abroad for one semester in Maynooth, Ireland and another in Granada, Spain. My experiences studying and living abroad taught me firsthand how immersing yourself in a new and foreign culture can help open your mind and develop an appreciation for other lifestyles and values while also realizing how similar all of humanity is in our desire for love, joy, and respect. During my senior year at Fordham, I was thrilled to be able to encourage and support other students studying abroad when I accepted a position as a student ambassador for the International and Study Abroad Programs Office. 

Additionally, I was an ambassador with the Lincoln Center Society (LCS). As an LCS ambassador, I gave weekly tours of Fordham to prospective students and their families and I was also invited to attend regional receptions in Southern California to speak with prospective students. During my time at Fordham, I participated in the Mentoring Amigas program as well as College Access.

That’s awesome! So what is the New York City Teaching Fellowship all about? 

The New York City Teaching Fellows (NYCTF) is a program that prepares individuals from all backgrounds to become educators in New York City. As an alternative teacher preparation program, the NYCTF allows fellows to participate in a rigorous summer training program followed by a full-time teaching position while also attending subsidized graduate school.

What sparked your interest in teaching? Have you always wanted to pursue this profession? 

After graduating from Fordham, I moved to Spain to be a teaching assistant with the Spanish government’s North American Language and Cultural Assistants program. I participated in this program for two years and discovered my passion for teaching. I was eager to return to the United States and use the knowledge from that experience in the classroom. NYCTF was an opportunity for me to teach while simultaneously getting my master’s degree in adolescent education at St. John’s University. 

Very cool! What does a typical day in your program look like?

During school hours, my day is the same as any high school teacher. At the school I work at, the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers, I teach four algebra classes on a block schedule. Our day runs from 8:30 in the morning to 3:45 in the afternoon. One day a week, I go to the St. John’s University Manhattan campus at Astor Place for my graduate school courses. I take two classes each semester which take place on the same evening. That day, I am at St. John’s from 5pm to 9pm. 

What challenges or unexpected events have you had to overcome in this role? 

As a high school math teacher, each day presents a new challenge or an unexpected event. I’ve learned to see each of these challenges as an opportunity. Sometimes it’s an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of math content so that I am able to anticipate student misunderstandings and address them. Other times it is the challenge of helping a student prioritize their education even when their social or home life renders it difficult to focus on school. For example, some of the freshmen I work with are so eager to make friends and appear “cool” to their peers that they shirk their responsibility to learn. It has been a challenge to find the most effective way to help students understand that being social is important but should not negatively impact their right to an education.  

Outside of the classroom, teaching full-time while attending graduate school has helped me to refine my time management skills, especially during the end of the semester when I am not only grading my students’ work, but am also busy writing papers and studying for exams of my own.

Where do you see your career going in the future? 

As of now, I am content teaching. I am excited by the fact that the more I work on my craft as an educator, the more I realize how much more I still have to learn. I’ve always been interested in non-profit work that helps underrepresented students have greater access to higher education, so perhaps in the very long term I would consider transitioning to work in that field. But for the time being, I’d prefer to work on being the best educator I can be for my students. 

How have your prior experiences at Fordham helped you to prepare for this program?

Upon reflection, I notice that many of my Fordham experiences helped prepare me for the NYCTF program and the teaching profession. For example, my participation in the Mentoring Amigas program as a mentor gave me experience with students of color who come from low income backgrounds, a demographic similar to that of the students I work with now. This mentoring experience, combined with College Access, gave me better insight into the perspectives of teenagers today. 

My thesis research also showed me how challenging it can be for students whose families are new to this country to succeed in their pursuit of higher education, which I see echoed in my current students who would be the first person in their families to attend college. Without the foundational knowledge on how to apply for college, financial aid, and scholarships, students are at a disadvantage compared to their peers whose families have a better understanding, pool of resources, and network of social connections to help make sense of the college application process. 

Finally, my work as a tour guide for Fordham with the Lincoln Center Society helped me find my “teacher voice” while giving tours in the FCLC Plaza and competing with the construction noises of the then in-progress McKeon Hall. I am now much better at projecting so that a whole room of students can hear me.  

Lastly, what advice would you give to other Fordham students applying to a prestigious fellowship?

I will admit that the thought of applying to a prestigious fellowship seemed daunting to me at first. However, to any student even mildly interested in applying to a prestigious fellowship, I suggest that they give it their all and apply. 

As far as the application goes, Fordham equips students with a multitude of resources. The small class sizes allow students to build stronger relationships with faculty who can then write specific and impactful letters of recommendation. The Office of Career Services will help fine tune a resume. And finally, the Office of Prestigious Fellowships will aid in whatever way they can each step of the way. Personally, I attribute much of the strength of my application for NYCTF to Dr. Stark-Gendrano, who video messaged me while I was abroad to discuss my application essay responses and later, after I had made it to the second round of applicants, coached me as I rehearsed my mock lesson for my interview. I am sure that I would have not been as strong of an applicant without Dr. Stark-Gendrano’s guidance.

There’s always the risk of not being selected for the program, but there is also that chance that you will be accepted and embark, as I have, on one of the most challenging, enlightening, and rewarding experiences of your life.