By David Perry
To Groton, Massachusetts, native Janis (Erickson) Raguin ’92, the word “home” means comfort, familiarity and connection.
She found all of that under her parents’ roof, as well as in the campus community as a River Hawk grad student in the College of Education.
Her time at UML “prepared and encouraged me to make a difference in the world by helping children learn, but it also grounded me in the spirit of connection and community,” she told the crowd gathered to celebrate her University Alumni Award in 2019.
Raguin and her husband of 23 years, John, have been busy making sure others can share that sense of community, then pass it on, through a series of gifts. Most recently, they contributed to the renovation of the university’s physical ground zero, Coburn Hall, home to the College of Education. The building’s Raguin Design and Discovery Center, a resource lab for student teachers, is named for them.
They have also supported UTeach UMass Lowell, which addresses a nationwide shortage of math, science, technology and engineering teachers. UTeach Network was founded at the University of Texas Austin in 1997 and adopted at UML (the first university in New England to offer it) in 2012.
Janis — who taught in Massachusetts public schools in Turners Falls and in Lincoln — also serves on the College of Education’s Advisory Board.
But it’s the couple’s endowment of the Grow Our Own Scholarship that promises to have the deepest and most long-lasting impact. The scholarship is designed to encourage a diverse group of high school students to become teachers and settle into jobs at local schools to inspire others to do the same.
“We were really inspired to give back to UMass Lowell and the idea was something that came about through talking to Prof. (and former College of Education Dean) Eleanor Abrams,” says Janis. “It makes so much sense. It offers an impetus for students who live in Lowell, Lawrence and other towns to attend college, get a good education and stay in the community to work.”
The goal of the scholarship is to bridge the education and diversity gap between educators and their students. About 40% of Massachusetts students are of color, but among teachers, that number is less than 10%. Yet, according to a 2016 study by the Brookings Institution and National Council on Teacher Quality, students were more successful if their teachers were of the same race.
Janis says she hopes the scholarship will help breed a spirit of “If I can see it, I can be it,” allowing minority elementary school students to look to the front of the classroom and see not just a teacher but an inspiration to teach.
Freshman art major Arie Dowe can attest to the power of representation. During his high school years in Dorchester Massachusetts, Dowe says he benefited from having only had teachers who were Black like him — and how he wants to offer that same sense of connection to the next generation of students.
“I want to work with kids that look like me,” says Dowe, who as one of three recipients of the GROW scholarship, plans to become an art teacher. “I want to be an example.”
Where does he want to teach? ”Dorchester.”
Dowe says the scholarship allows him to focus on his priorities. “I have been able to relax when it comes to worrying about how I’m going to get through school, and I can focus more on my grades and being present in class,” he says.
That’s what the university wants for all its students, says Chancellor Jacquie Moloney. “Janis and John really get it, and we’re grateful they’re such great friends to the university,” she says. ”They understand the importance of giving both teachers and students what they need to make dreams and careers come to fruition. They’re address-ing needs that will create and inspire educators for generations.”
A SHARED VISION
The Raguins met at an event for Cornell alumni. Janis earned a degree in hotel administration in 1988, and John was a 1991 graduate with a degree in electrical engineering. He later earned an MBA in management from New York University’s Stern School of Business.
“She was funny, down to earth,” says John, “and she spoke her mind. She was up-front and honest and I’m the same way, though sometimes to a fault.”
“He has more of an engineering mind and I have the more social mind,” says Janis. “In that way we’re different from one another. But we have similar visions and hopes.”
John co-founded Guidewire, a California-based software company. He also served as chief marketing officer at Seismic, and now advises early- to mid-stage software companies. But, like Janis, he’s never forgotten his roots.
“Helping these students resonates with me, too,” he says. “I grew up in Medford, where a huge percentage of the kids were not going to college.”
Janis, whose mother was a schoolteacher and father was a social worker, was inspired by her parents to work with young people. After taking a break from teaching to raise her children—Chantal and Eric, now 21 and 20, respectively—she earned a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Lesley University in 2018.
“I’ve always loved kids and the idea of working with them, and was attracted to psychology and education since I was young,” she says. As it turns out, she’d doing plenty for both fields.