IRT Receives $2 M Grant

In recognition of its work in recruiting minorities to the teaching profession, Andover’s Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers (IRT) in January received a $2 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Former Dean of Faculty K. Kelly Wise founded IRT in 1990 with a mission to “deepen the pool of talented minorities entering the teaching profession in our country.” The IRT works year-round and is continually in contact with its students, alumni and prospective applicants. Wise is now the Executive Director of IRT. IRT’s two summer sessions bring 30 college seniors to Phillips Academy who are selected from a pool of over 300 applicants interested in teaching. “It confirms the work that we’re doing is very important and vital. It ensures that we’re able to recruit students from across the country who want to go into education,” said IRT Associate Director and alumna Leslie Godo-Solo. She added, “Not only education, but the humanities, the social sciences, American education, specifically individuals who want to become teachers at the K-12 level.” This is the fourth and largest grant IRT has received from the Mellon Foundation. The program previously received two grants of $700,000 and one of $750,000. Wise said the grant was unprecedented. Wise said, “Foundations almost never give endowment money to institutions because that means they have to take it out of their endowment, and they certainly don’t give it to secondary schools and then they certainly don’t give it to little programs on secondary school campuses, so it’s quite an acknowledgement to the work of all our staff and all our students.” The Mellon Foundation, which awards around $200 million in grants yearly, provides funding in five fields: higher education, museums and art, performing arts, environmental conversation and public affairs. For the past 16 summers, IRT faculty have worked like “college counselors” to steer and aid minority students through the graduate school application process, said IRT Director Chera Reid. Emphasis is placed more on specific programs and professors, and less on the school when applying to graduate school, Reid said. Wise said, “When you apply to college, you may still be applying to Williams or Amherst or Harvard because of the name.” “But when you apply to graduate school, you could apply to a thoroughly unknown state school that happens to have the best linguistics department on the East or West Coast because scholars somehow have shown up there. We’re not going after the label so much as the best department that will serve you and our needs,” Wise said. During IRT’s Summer Workshop, students are guided throughout the process while preparing for the Graduate Record Examination. IRT also invites more than 60 deans and admissions representatives to meet with candidates at its Recruiters’ Weekend. “They receive counseling, assistance with the statement of purpose, we send out their application, and we provide application fee waivers, or the consortium of the universities we work with have agreed to waive fees for students. We advocate for them to be admitted to receive full fellowship packages,” Godo-Solo said. She continued, “These are all higher-qualified students, but some of them may or may not be familiar with the graduate school lingo, the entire process from beginning to end, how you negotiate a higher fellowship package and those kinds of things, so we help students with that as well.” Applying through the IRT program gives students a solid footing as they transition to becoming teachers. Approximately 93 percent of IRT students receive full funding for six years. “With IRT, you can nearly guarantee that you’re going to get a good start,” said Reid, who refers to the program as a “home base” for students’ careers. “People begin to see themselves not only as college students interested in education, but as aspiring professionals, people with graduate degrees who are professionals,” she said. She continued, “Everyone’s really unified in that they all want to go on to graduate school to become educators. Some want to be kindergarten teachers, some want to go on to teach in universities, some want to be school counselors, but everyone’s going to be an educator.” The program’s dedication has paid off, as its alumni base can attest to. According to Reid, most graduates stay in touch with IRT as though checking in with family members. As of now, 60 percent of IRT graduates teach at the university level, while the other 40 percent are teaching in primary and secondary public education. IRT’s reputation for quality has garnered job offers from institutions looking to hire its graduates, as well as to move the IRT to a university campus. But the support of the Andover faculty has been instrumental in Andover retaining the program. Wise said, “I’ve been so happy here as a teacher and an administrator, and the current administration especially—Barbara [Chase] and Becky [Sykes] and Temba [Maqubela] and Steve Carter have just been so supportive, so it’s good.” Wise is planning to keep the IRT at Andover for the long term. “Why should I go to Brown or some other place like Notre Dame and start anew? You don’t know anyone, you don’t know the support you’re going to get,” he said.