Young Alum inspires next generation of learners

Erin Marsh

Erin Marsh

About Erin Marsh

Erin L. Marsh began her education at Penn State Altoona, and completed her Education degree at the University Park campus in 2005. She is the math coach at Pierre Indian Learning Center in Pierre, South Dakota. She has dedicated the past ten years to refining learning experiences that inspire children who have grown up in poverty to reach high levels of achievement in mathematics. Marsh hosts monthly professional learning communities at her school and presents research-based best practices instruction throughout South Dakota. Marsh’s job includes teaching students from fifteen different American Indian tribes from South Dakota, North Dakota, and Nebraska. Teaching Native American students has taught her the value of building relationships and has instilled in her the passion to make a difference in the lives of children. She recently started an after-school program for first- through eighth-graders called “Crazy 8s,” which features hands-on, STEM-based activities.

Marsh acknowledges that she struggled with math from elementary through high school. She worked hard to overcome this challenge and gained important insights into how teachers can help struggling students. She became the school’s first mathematics coach, providing leadership, support, and professional development for all teachers on implementing cognitively guided instruction. Marsh provides exemplary leadership for mathematics educators through collaboration. She was honored with the 2012 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, which is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government specifically for K-12 mathematics and science teaching.

In April 2016, Marsh was honored with Penn State’s Alumni Achievement Award, along with twelve other Penn Stater under the age of 35. The Alumni Achievement Award recipients are nominated by an academic college or campus and invited by the president of the University to return to campus to share their expertise with students and the Penn State community. Honorees demonstrate to students that Penn State alumni succeed in exceptional fashion at an early age.

Q: What have you been up to since winning this prestigious honor in April?

A: I am still working as my school’s math coach. I have been in this position for a little over three years. This is my twelfth year at Pierre Indian Learning Center and I came here as a student teacher through Penn State in the spring of 2005. I started a STEM-based after-school program for first through eighth grade in 2014 to get my students interested in math and science fields. The program has since grown and my principal was so impressed with the student interest that she incorporated STEM into the school day for sixth through eighth graders.  So this year I teach six classes of sixth through eighth grade STEM and also am still coaching and working in math classrooms from first through eighth grade. I hosted our first family STEM night in November, which I am very excited about! I also still run the STEM after-school program for first through fifth graders, and coach basketball, cross country, and track for the middle school.

This year I was selected into a program called Teachers for Global Classroom ( so I am currently participating in a year-long fellowship with the TGC. This semester I am taking a ten-week course on Global Education and Citizenship and next semester I will travel to Washington, D.C. for the Global Education Symposium. This summer I will travel abroad for three weeks to work in schools and with teachers from another country. I find out my abroad placement in December!

Q: What led you to attend Penn State Altoona?

A:  Penn State has been a dream of mine since I was little girl. I have been a sports fanatic all my life and when Penn State won the Rose Bowl in 1995, I knew I wanted to go to this University and be a part of that Penn State pride!  I applied to the University Park campus and was disappointed when I didn’t get in. Altoona was my second choice, but it turned out to be the best choice! It’s a smaller campus, close enough to the University Park campus so I could still get to all the football games. I really was able to get to know a lot of people, and get to know my professors on a more personal level.

That Penn State football fan in me really came out strong when we beat Ohio State this year!  I work in a little hometown bar in Pierre on the evenings and weekends and I was all decked out in my Penn State gear. The bar was packed with people and I was jumping up and down and screaming like a crazy fan when they came back and won that game. I think I silenced the whole bar when Penn State blocked the field goal and ran it for a touchdown. After I settled down, one man got up and walked up the bar and gave me a high five, and said someone that excited about their team shouldn’t have to celebrate alone. Sometimes it’s tough being the only Penn State fan out here in South Dakota, but I can’t help expressing my pride for our University and bleeding blue and white.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories?

A: Altoona offered a lot of opportunities that helped me become interested in education and even global citizenship. Interestingly, one of my favorite classes was yoga, perhaps Dr. Lori Bechtel-Wherry because (now chancellor) drove the van to take us to the yoga studio in downtown Altoona. I loved her stories and became close with her and her daughter, Andrea.

I soon got involved with Orphanage Outreach where I was introduced to Dr. Rosalyn Constantino and Dr. Lee Ann De Reus. I was fortunate to travel with all three of these professors two years in a row to the Dominican Republic for service work over spring break. They are amazing and empowering women, whom I still look up to as my mentors.

Q: How did Altoona prepare you for the transition to the University Park campus and the “real world”?

A: Altoona made University Park seem smaller. I didn’t feel like a number when I transferred there. I passed someone I knew from Altoona in between almost every class. It made that huge campus feel more like home. I also loved the diversity of both campuses. Growing up in a white middle-class community and then meeting and making friends from all different ethnicities and countries at Penn State helped me broaden my lens for our global world. I loved learning about other cultures outside my own.

This cultural interest grew and is what interested me in student teaching in South Dakota. My first choice was Europe, but I couldn’t afford the travel and cost of living expense. However I wanted to immerse myself in a culture different that my own. I feel this immersion has helped me build awareness and empathy for Native Americans, as well as be less ignorant to other cultures within the United States.

Penn State also pushed me to be a better person. My classes were difficult and challenging. Altoona provided so many opportunities to experience new things. I had a work-study position at a local Head Start school, and was able to work with children with all types of academic, social, and behavioral barriers that children often face in poverty.  My memories from Altoona were some of my best from my college experience!  Penn State has helped shape me into the person I am today.

Comments are closed