Morgan Engelhardt, Erin Vogan, Tyler Puryear, Lark Stawas, Madeline Pendergast, Amanda Stagge, Samantha Thon and Isabella Thornett were hand-selected from all of this year’s freshmen intending to be teachers.
At a celebratory breakfast at the Towson University Marriott Thursday morning, University President Maravene Loeschke shared with the students the story about when James Patterson contacted her office to offer the unsolicited scholarship. The author had found Towson University in his own research into institutions that graduate outstanding educators, based on their history of teacher development and reading education. Patterson’s mother was a teacher and his current efforts focus on igniting a love of reading in children.
“He doesn’t have to give back,” Loeschke said of the prolific writer, who has sold 275 million books just in the last three years. “He can do whatever he wants, but he’s chosen to do something incredibly meaningful. And he knows how important it is, because teachers are the key to a successful future not just in the way they educate, but in the way they teach civility, how they teach leadership development, and how they help build a student’s character.”
The scholarships give each student $6,000 per year, as long as they remain intent on being teachers and maintain the academic and behavioral standards set forth by university policy. Patterson plans to add another eight scholarships for another set of incoming freshmen next year. Of all the institutions nationwide with education programs, he has now done this for about 20. That recognition impressed the recipients.
“It makes me feel even better about coming here,” Stawas said.
The students were notified in the fall that they were eligible for the scholarship. They submitted an application explaining why they want to be teachers and what the scholarship means to them.
“I have four siblings,” said Puryear, who is taking six courses this term so he can study abroad in Australia in the fall. “Three of them are also in college right now, so this scholarship is going to make paying for it a lot easier for my parents and me, because I’m mainly supporting myself through college.”
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” Pendergast said. “I would always play school in my basement. It really clicked my senior year of high school when I went and interned in a first grade class and I absolutely loved it, and had the patience to work with the kids.”
The intimate breakfast in a small room with small tables allowed the students to talk openly with Loeschke, Provost Tim Chandler, College of Education Dean Ray Lorion and other university leaders. Those leaders stressed that the students should feel comfortable reaching out to them and to each other. “We want you to be a group that supports each other,” Lorion told them.
“We’re really honored that you applied here and accepted the nominations to be Patterson Scholars,” he continued. “It’s going to be a really special thing, and you folks are going to help us [define] what makes it special.”
But despite all the lavished praise and pride, there are a lot of obligations for these students. Loeschke impressed upon them that they’re expected to become leaders. “When you graduate and walk across that stage, you are going to become one of the most important people in the lives of every child you teach,” she told them.
That’s not a lesson lost on any of the scholarship recipients. “I had an amazing fourth grade teacher who was just great and had a huge impact on me,” Engelhardt said. “[She] made me want to be the teacher she was.”