Greg Ferro, an undergraduate meteorology major in the College of Earth and Mineral Science, has traded in a weather station for a classroom. Although he isn’t graduating until May, he already has his dream job lined up.
“I’ve always had an interest in teaching,” says Ferro. “In my sophomore year, I recall taking a picture on my cell phone of a Teach for America sign on the Hub lawn and sending it to my dad with the text message, ‘this is what I want to do after Penn State.'”
Through deliberate and careful preparation, Ferro overcame keen competition to become a high school math teacher for Teach for America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping low-income communities improve the quality of education for children. This year, applications were up 32 percent, and only 12 percent were offered positions, making it as difficult to get into as some Ivy League graduate schools.
The application process is grueling with a series of online applications, a phone interview, and in person interviews. “At any point when Penn State life slowed down, I worked on the application process” said Ferro. Slowing down for Ferro is not easy. As a fundraising chair for EMS THON, he’s helped raise over $60,000. He’s a teaching assistant, co-host of Weather or Not, and serves as a curriculum mentor for science camps. Teach for America looks for applicants who have demonstrated organization and leadership talents. Ferro applied these talents to his application: “For me the application process was an undercurrent beneath most of the fall semester.”
As part of the day-long, in person interview, Ferro developed a brief lesson on how to find the area of a circle and taught it to the interviewers and 12 other applicants. In addition, he completed a group problem-solving activity, a written exam, and participated in additional recruiter interviews. “It was a fun day!” Ferro says.
His motivation to teach comes from his classroom experiences. He’s had inspirational teachers, but he’s honest to point out that not all of his educational experiences have been perfect: “The influence that teachers have had on me, both good and bad, is the main reason that I want to be a teacher. I hope to never lose sight of this potential impact and always have a positive effect on my students. In the chaos of the day-to-day routine it’s going to be easy to forget this, but I hope to keep the big picture in mind.”
To prepare, this summer he’ll attend a five-week training program in New York City–a kind of boot camp for teachers–involving teaching summer school classes each morning followed by extensive feedback and training sessions throughout the afternoon and well into the night. When the school year begins in August, he’ll teach in Connecticut. “Many think of Connecticut as a very wealthy state” Ferro says, “but Connecticut has the most severe education inequity gap in the United States.”
The reward of helping others is obviously a prime motivation for Ferro, but he also sees additional benefits: “By the end of my two year commitment I will be certified to teach in Connecticut. Also, I have the option of completing a master of education degree. As a corps member I get paid a full teaching salary by the district in which I work, and I get an AmeriCorps stipend that can be applied towards graduate school or to pay back loans.”
Greg Ferro is following a strong tradition of Penn State excellence. He points out, “last year over 40 Penn State students went on to Teach for America in locations across the country.” At a recent welcoming event for this year’s recruits sponsored by Teach for America, he was happy to see a few familiar faces from similarly successful Penn Staters.