Article by Jamal Watson for Diverse Education
Dr. Annette Rickel has proven that you don’t have to be Bill Gates or George Soros to make a difference.
This past year, the psychotherapist, who also teaches at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College, created a small foundation in New York City aimed at increasing the number of minority teachers in the city’s public school system.
So far, the Annette Urso Rickel Foundation has granted scholarships to 20 New York students. These Rickel Teaching Scholars, many of whom are the first in their family to go to college, plan to give back to the city by becoming public school math and science teachers.
“My particular interest has been to try to bring more students of color into the teaching profession,” says Rickel, who awards scholarships to first- or second-year students attending City University of New York institutions. “It is so important to get young minority men into the classroom teaching.”
Rickel has been interested in minority education issues for some time. Before coming to New York five years ago, she worked in Washington, D.C., and Detroit and piloted a program there to help teenage parents finish high school.
When she arrived in New York City, she decided that the best way to encourage minorities to become math and science teachers was to provide one-on-one support and to help them overcome the financial burden of higher education. So she created the Rickel Foundation and sent letters to all of the college presidents within the CUNY system asking them to help identify students who could apply for the fellowship.
The scholarships range from about $2,800 for students in junior college
and $3,500 for those at four-year institutions. Rickel is providing the
money from her own pocket, using savings and investments, but she has begun soliciting additional financing from individuals and corporations so she can award more scholarships.
“These students are the teachers of tomorrow,” she says. “Teacher quality is a primary determinant of student achievement, so encouraging motivated college applicants to become public school math and science teachers is an important step in raising the quality of education in New York City and ensuring our country’s global competitiveness.”
College presidents say they welcome Rickel’s personal initiative.
“We are identifying college students who are motivated but often face financial and other obstacles in completing their education,” says Dr. Antonio Pérez, president of Borough of Manhattan Community College. “By focusing on students in their early years, the Rickel Foundation scholarships will give these students the support they need to continue their education so that they can become math and science teachers.”
Rickel says she’s alarmed by the chronic shortage of math and science teachers in New York City and nationwide. According to the National Education Association, the country will need more than 2 million new teachers in the next decade, mostly to teach math and science.
Professors at the various CUNY schools identify potential Rickel Teaching Scholars, who must submit several letters of recommendation as well as write a 250-word essay on why they want to become a public school teacher. Each scholarship recipient must maintain a B average, and Rickel personally keeps in touch with each of them by inviting them to various functions and events throughout the year.
Dwight Hallett, 29, dropped out of college 10 years ago, but decided recently to re-enroll at BMCC. The Harlem resident attends classes at night after leaving his city job. His story touched Rickel, who reads each application.
“As a single parent, this scholarship really takes a burden away from me,” says Hallett. He eventually plans to become a high school math teacher. “I want to be a positive African-American male role model for children who, in 85 percent of the cases, fear mathematics.”
Rickel says that, with additional support from the public, she plans to expand her foundation to reach more students.