“So, Tina, what are your plans after graduation?” We all know that dreaded question. After all, I’ve been avoiding graduation for four long years. There are countless things I’ll miss – Dairy bar ice cream, watching the sunrise over our beautiful campus, and even the all-nighters at the library – but now, as family members prod about my plans, my anxiety has finally dwindled. I can proudly answer that I’m going back to school, but this time as the teacher.
As a student at UConn, I’ve kept myself busy as a double major, site manager for America Reads, and working at the study abroad office. I stepped on campus thinking I would be applying to medical school as a senior. During my Semester at Sea, my plans changed. I realized I wanted to help provide people with the skills they needed to care for themselves. I met students, professors, and citizens of more than a dozen countries that semester—all of whom had achieved so much. Through these connections I began to see the power and centrality of education. I knew that I wanted to help students in this country reach their full potential, starting in my classroom.
Like my Semester at Sea experience, I want to continue to push myself out of my comfort zone after I graduate. I want to jump head first into a career that will give me an opportunity to have an immediate impact and empower others. That’s why I chose to become a high school teacher in Indianapolis with Teach For America.
I believe that a classroom is a powerful place for social change. When I think about the social issues I’m most passionate about—human rights and feminism—I came to realize that there’s no better place to tackle them head-on than in the classroom. After all, education is the most powerful tool at our disposal to disrupt inequity and create opportunity.
As a corps member, I know I’ll face incredible challenges as I tackle these complex and systemic issues. But I also know that my experiences on campus and abroad—running student organizations, taking classes on human rights, and tutoring at a local elementary school—have equipped me to take on these obstacles on behalf of my students. And if not me, then who?
I look forward to creating a community with my students full of pride and school spirit, and I can’t wait to bring what I’ve learned here into my classroom. I can’t wait to teach an entire classroom to chant “Huskies!” to my “UConn!” When I think about the things I love most about being on this campus, I realize I can take so much of those experiences with me.
I’m excited to step out of our now-comfortable lecture halls and bio labs to start my path as a leader in a different kind of classroom – one where I’ll get to impact the lives of the next generation as their teacher. A classroom where I’ll have the opportunity to make a positive change in a community I’ll call my new home.
So as you consider which path you’ll forge after graduation, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. Listen to the moments that have defined your college experiences thus far. We all have to leave UConn someday, but I can think of no greater privilege than helping the next generation of students have the opportunity to become Huskies.
Tina Patel is a Molecular/Cell Biology and Human Rights major. She is also the President of American Society for Microbiology and a 2017 Teach For America-Indianapolis corps member.