When the College of New Rochelle announced in the middle of Varsha Perkins’ freshman year that it was closing after commencement, she began looking for a place to complete her degree.
She’d been studying sociology while getting field experience on a pre-teaching track, and she decided to look for education programs closer to home in Boston.
Perkins chose UMass Lowell, even though earning her undergraduate degree in education, with dual certification in elementary education and teaching children with moderate disabilities, is adding an extra year to her college career. She has no regrets.
“I’ve actually done a lot even in one semester, including several visits to Murkland Elementary School (in Lowell) to observe and present lessons,” she says. “Before, I didn’t even know what a lesson plan was. I was kind of clueless.”
Perkins also got a job as a tutor at Pawtucketville Elementary School, where she works with small groups of students who need extra help with a particular topic, such as fractions.
And she’s joined a new club for Asian American education students, Asian Aspiring Educators, started by Assoc. Prof. Phitsamay Uy. It brings the students together with experienced and retired Asian American educators who can serve as mentors. They read assigned material and then meet to discuss it once a month. The UML students also discuss the struggles that arise in their student teaching.
Perkins loves having two mentors, a working teacher and a retired teacher. Although her mother is a college English professor, she often felt lost in school as a child, she says.
“I didn’t do very well in school, and I wished that I had more support. I never felt like the teachers were invested in my success: You either learned the material or you didn’t,” she says. “I hope that I’ll provide support for students who are struggling. It’s rewarding helping students to understand something. It’s not just teaching – it’s a connection.”
Perkins is thriving now. She was invited to join the Honors College, and in her first year at UML, she’s already taken four honors classes: two in writing and two in psychology, including honors Child and Adolescent Development.
She especially loved the First-year Seminar in Honors: Text in the City, the honors version of College Writing I. The experiential learning course requires students to get out and do things that will expose them to Lowell’s history and culture, from visiting Lowell National Historical Park to taking in a play at Merrimack Repertory Theatre.
“I just did a project on the Merrimack River, the falls and the canals,” Perkins says. “Seeing all of these different things in the city, it’s cool!”