How do you make a difference in the world? Victoria Thompson ’15 and her wife, Kourtney Johnson, spent a recent evening in their Tacoma, Washington, home pondering that question. They talked about their education and ways to change the landscape for educators, particularly for people of color.
That’s when they hit upon how they could make a difference. Despite being very early in their careers, they decided to create a scholarship to help education majors at the College of Charleston offset the financial challenges of their clinical internship semester, with a preference toward students of color.
“The bottom line is that there are not enough educators of color,” says Thompson, who majored in elementary education at CofC. “I was the only Black woman in my graduating class, and one reason why is the lack of incentive to pursue a career as an educator. Becoming an educator requires a lot of sacrifice. While there is a lot of personal return as a teacher, there is not a lot of financial return. That’s why dedicating a semester [to student-teaching] without payment or part-time work serves as a huge obstacle for educators.”
Thompson and Johnson worked with the College of Charleston Institutional Advancement team to create the Thompson Johnson Scholarship for Teacher Education. The annual, non-endowed scholarship is a five-year agreement with a $2,000 commitment each year. The first recipient of the Thompson Johnson Scholarship for Teacher Education will be awarded in the fall of 2021.
“I am thrilled to have the Thompson Johnson Scholarship for future teachers of color who have financial need,” says Frances Welch, dean of the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance. “The scholarship will be used in the clinical internship semester. The recipient must have been previously employed, and the award will offset earnings from employment since we encourage our interns to not be employed during the internship semester [student-teaching in the classroom].
“I have fond memories of Victoria, who was a member of our 2014-15 Teacher Leader program,” adds Welch. “I knew Victoria would become an outstanding educational leader, and I am impressed that Kourtney, Victoria’s wife, is joining her to support the Thompson Johnson Scholarship.”
A New Jersey native, Thompson came to the College after coming to Charleston as part of a traveling chorus group her sophomore year of high school. She went on a tour of the campus and was hooked.
“I always knew I wanted to major in elementary education and create equitable experiences for students,” says Thompson.
Today, Thompson is doing just that as a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) integration transformation coach at Technology Access Foundation (TAF), a nonprofit dedicated to redefining STEM education in Washington public schools. In her job with TAF, Thompson works with schools viewing STEM through an anti-racist lens in order to create more equity and engagement. She also teaches educators how to use the STEMbyTAF model of project-based learning.
And her experiences at the College, she says, gave her a foundation for her career.
“Teachers enter spaces with bias whether or not they admit it. They also can unintentionally harm a student with thoughtless commentary and assumptions based on their biases,” she says. “I appreciated that the College invests in awareness with heart so that we are better educators in the long run.”
Thompson and Johnson want more students to have the opportunity to receive a well-rounded education without financial stress.
“We want to pay it forward because we are very blessed,” says Thompson. “It’s very exciting, but it’s also a big commitment.
“Fortunately, we have had more than $1,500 in donations for the scholarship from our social media followers,” she adds. “It’s amazing how people we don’t know personally are providing additional funds for our scholarship. It’s a wonderful example of the community coming together to support the College’s education program and increase the representation of women of color in early childhood and elementary education. Hopefully, together, we will get enough funding to create an endowed scholarship.”
Undoubtedly, that’s how you make a difference.