Stephanie Brown of Newton loves helping people, and she loves math. Finding a place where those two things go together was easy — she only had to look at her favorite high school teacher to figure it out. When Brown graduated from Newton High School and declared a major at Bethel College, she chose education.
"Education seemed like the obvious answer, as it is humanitarian in nature, and I could specialize in teaching mathematics," Brown said.
It was Barbara Umschied at Newton High School whoinspired her. Brown was afraid of "scary, upper-level math courses" coming her way in college.
"She reassured me by telling me the story of failing her first calculus test and how her professor worked endlessly with her until she could prove that she could do it," Brown said. "Thirty-some years later, and Mrs. Umscheid was an expert teacher of pre-Calc, as we called it, as well as AP Calculus. I thought, 'if she can do it, so can I.'"
When she got to college, it was another teacher that kept her going.
"At Bethel, Lisa Thimm was the head professor of mathematics, and she is the one to whom I attribute my perseverance to the field of mathematics," Brown said. "If it were not for her, I am not sure if I would still be going into mathematics, let alone teaching. She not only taught me how to find the volume of a bundt cake (and eat it after we got the correct answer), but that math can be hard -- that it is hard -- and that that is okay to admit."
This year Brown was awarded the Teacher of Promise Award from the Kansas State Board of Education. Her classmate Alyssa Sullivan of Olathe was also one of the 39 college education majors from the state of Kansas chosen to receive the award.
Twice a year the state education department allows colleges with education departments to nominate students to be Teachers of Promise. Currently, 23 colleges offer teacher preparation programs in the state of Kansas. The spring honorees are honored during a conference for educators.
"The state provides extra opportunities for these individuals," said Allen Jantz, professor of education for Bethel College. "In the fall they can attend a workshop designed specifically for them. ... In the spring they are invited to the Kansas Exemplary Educator's Conference. They get to participate in those activities. It's beginning the professional relationships that are so vital to teaching."
The staff of the education department at Bethel nominates students for the award each year.
"I ask everyone who teaches courses that all of our students would have had, to go through and look at .... who had demonstrated the most promise to be an effective educator," Jantz said.
It is an honor not lost on Brown.
"It was such an honor to be given the Teacher of Promise award," Brown said. "I had never heard of it before I was told I was being nominated, but when I found out that they only chose two education students from each college and university in the state of Kansas, I was shocked. It was incredible being in the presence of others who are also in the same boat as myself, who are at this specific stage in our lives and who want to make a difference in students' lives."
Though she is a senior, she is not quite done with school this year. She plans on one semester — studying overseas — before finishing and looking for a teaching postion.
"This fall I plan on studying abroad in Wuppertal, Germany to learn German and to fulfill my German minor," Brown said. "Hopefully, then, I will be able to teach German as well as math! After one semester I plan to return to Kansas to substitute teach for a few months and start applying for teaching jobs!"