Touhey Family Fellows Program Seeks to Bring More Diversity to Teaching and Counseling 

Tammy Ellis-Robinson, third from left, faculty director of the Touhey Family Fellowship Program, walks with the program's graduate student mentors, left to right, Hilary Paredes, Kristin Collins, Kewsi Burgess, Taja Young and Naomi Downes. (Photo by Paul Miller)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Oct. 1, 2019) — Citing research that shows students — and especially non-white students — benefit from having teachers who look like them, the School of Education (SOE) has instituted the Touhey Family Fellows Program to aid the Albany area in diversifying the teaching and counseling professions.

The program, which provides $1,000 per Fellow over two semesters to aid with tuition, will create a pipeline of UAlbany undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds who pursue graduate degrees in the education and mental health fields and then ideally go on to careers in the Albany public school system.

“The Touhey Family Fellows Program will position the school as a leader in creating a diverse teacher and mental health professional workforce that reflects New York’s changing demographics,” said Jason Lane, SOE interim dean.

Partnering University and Regional Talent

Tammy Ellis-Robinson, assistant professor in Special Education and faculty director for the program, highlighted the talent being brought to the program by the graduate student mentors, SOE faculty and educators from Albany schools. “This is an excellent opportunity to build a community of learners, educators and difference makers,” she said.

“Together we can navigate educational and professional spaces, unpack biases and build strategies for promoting equity through a unique network of community members. K-12 educators, University faculty, graduate students and undergraduates working together to promote and provide supportive, effective and equitable educational experiences through mentorship and reciprocal engagement.”

Ellis-Robinson referenced a large study conducted in 2017 that found that when African-American children have an African-American teacher, boys are far less likely to drop out of high school, and that both boys and girls are more likely to attend college. However, in Albany, as in most other school districts, there is a large gap between the percentage of students of color and the percentage of teachers of color.

The program is open to juniors and seniors with GPAs of 3.0 or above who are declared human development majors, education minors, or who plan to pursue a profession in education or mental health professions. The fellowship will provide an ecosystem of support through a unique set of experiences that include:

  • Mentoring from SOE graduate students
  • Monthly engagement sessions with SOE faculty
  • Collaborative research opportunities with SOE faculty
  • Specially designated scholarships
Graduate Students Play a Big Role

The program seeks to enrich, as well as be enriched by, it’s current five graduate student mentors.

“This program should heighten my sensitivity to, awareness of and understanding of the diversity and variety of perspectives/needs, etc. of undergrad students,” said Taja Young, a PhD student in Educational Psychology and Methodology. “As a future professor, this will certainly be useful as I build relationships with students/families and support them in their personal, academic, and professional development.”

“Being a mentor will allow me to experience something that is completely new: being someone a student can depend on,” said Hilary Paredes, a master’s student in Mental Health Counseling. “Helping a student similar to me in race, gender, socioeconomic status, or even life experiences feels like guiding your younger self through a very challenging, potentially rewarding time.”

In addition to scholarship funding, the fellowship will offer an Undergraduate Research Stipend of $500 for those students that conduct research with faculty. It will also provide funding aid for graduate school applications and certification exams.

The program is made possible through a generous gift from the Carl E. Touhey Foundation.

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