Michael Chapman's most memorable experience as a student teacher at Henley Middle School in Crozet, Virginia, came when the seventh-graders in his life sciences class gleefully sang the "Photosynthesis” song he had taught them.
"I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. It was played over the announcement system to the whole school," he recalled. "They still know the song and can tell you about the photosynthesis process."
For Chapman, finding ways to engage students and "pique their dreams" has a powerful reciprocal effect. "I've found that just as teachers can change students' lives, they change ours."
Chapman knows a thing or two about change and the importance of pursuing one's dreams. Upon entering the University of Virginia, the Hampton, Virginia, native planned to major in biomedical engineering with an eye toward going to medical school. But his participation in a Habitat for Humanity project—and an encounter with elementary schoolchildren—changed his mind.
Chapman traveled to Americus, Georgia, to help Habitat benefit local schools. Watching fourth- and fifth-graders playing one day, he noticed they lacked certain skills that he felt children of their age should already have mastered.
"They were playing school, and I saw them struggling with simple questions like, 'What is 3 + 2?'" Then and there, he recalls, he decided to become a teacher.
He subsequently enrolled in the Curry School of Education's five-year Master of Teaching Education program, in which students complete an additional and graduate with two degrees: a bachelor's of arts or science from the College of Arts & Sciences and a master's degree in teaching from the Curry School. Chapman chose to pursue a biology degree with a graduate focus in secondary education.
But one roadblock remained.
Throughout college, Chapman had worked hard, often multiple jobs, to help finance his education, but he worried about how to pay for the extra year. Then he learned about the Sandra Feagan Stern Fellowship.
Established in 2008 by Kyle Blackmon in honor of his mother, Sandra Feagan Stern (Curry '85), the fellowship extends her legacy as an educator and helps to prepare the next generation of educators. The fellowship helps fifth-year, in-state students by paying for their tuition costs, which automatically increase by thirty percent when their status changes from undergraduate to graduate.
Chapman's face lights up as he recounts how he became the 2009 Stern Fellowship recipient. "Someone, I never learned exactly who, nominated me for the fellowship. Receiving it took the load off of worrying how I was going to pay for school. Now it's helping me go out into the world and educate other students. Maybe one of them will have the dream of becoming a teacher."