Missouri high school students explore their potential, UMSL campus at Educators Rising Conference

David Stoffer speaks to students.

David Stofer, recruitment coordinator for the College of Education, addresses educators and high school students from across the state Wednesday during the Educators Rising Fall Conference. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

The fresh faces of future educators could be spotted across the University of Missouri–St. Louis campus Wednesday.

Nearly 140 Missouri educators and high school students, as well as a few middle school students, flocked to the university to participate in the Educators Rising Fall Conference. Some were dressed to the nines, while others were clad in sweatshirts and t-shirts representing their respective schools, but everyone buzzed with excitement at the prospect of exploring a college campus.

The Missouri National Education Association sponsored the event, which included a keynote address by MNEA President Phil Murray, an information session led by UMSL faculty and staff members, Educator Rising competitions, group activities and campus tours.

The annual conference provides an opportunity for students in grades 7-12 to explore careers in education, an important step in preparing quality teachers for tomorrow’s schools. It’s become particularly important in recent years as school districts across the country face teacher shortages.

“Educators Rising is really about cultivating a new generation of educators in the state of Missouri,” said Samantha Hayes, MNEA state coordinator and teaching and learning director.

David Stofer, recruitment coordinator for the College of Education, worked to bring the conference to UMSL for the first time this fall. As a former physical education teacher and assistant principal, Stofer was ecstatic to see so many young students at the university.

“These were the kids that I worked with for 17 years,” he said. “Seeing them here today just brings back so many great memories of my previous life, and I’m so lucky to be able to interact with them still but in a different way to hopefully support their college future. It’s such an amazing honor for me.”

The event began with Murray’s keynote, which centered on the theme of students discovering and nurturing their potential as future educators.

“I hope that you think about what happened in your life – which educator reached out to help you to make you who you are,” Murray told the crowd in the Millennium Student Center Century Room.

An information session led by Stofer; Julie Smith Sodey, associate teaching professor in the College of Education; and Megan Green Simonds, director of new student programs and campus visits, followed the keynote.

Sodey and Stofer touched on the College of Education’s diverse range of teacher preparation programs including innovative options such as Teach in 12, Teach in Residency and Teach for America.

“There are so many different kinds of educators, and our program does provide a number of different pathways,” Sodey said. “We put a lot of emphasis early on in the program to expose our teacher candidates to the different options that are out there, figuring out what degree path would be best for them.”

Sodey also spoke about her own path to becoming an educator. She said her journey has led her to focus on helping UMSL education students find “efficient, satisfying, rewarding pathways” to complete their degrees.

“It’s not always a straight pathway to your degree option,” Sodey said. “I think it’s really exciting that you guys get to come here as high school students and experience this, and you have these programs within your high schools. We didn’t have this opportunity when I was in high school.”

Next, Simonds offered a snapshot of the UMSL campus to the future educators, touching on the university’s athletics, diverse student body, financial aid, residential life, student organizations and study abroad opportunities. After the presentation, the students filed out of the MSC to take campus tours.

“We’ve got three different groups going around with our Triton leaders, so they get to interact with current students and see our amazing campus facilities,” Simonds said. “Hopefully, as they’re walking around, they’ll be able to imagine themselves as a future student here on campus. Hopefully it will lead into them being able to apply and even come back and be enrolled as a student.”

During the afternoon portion of the event, students had the opportunity to participate in Educator Rising competitions. The performance-based competitive events offered the aspiring educators a chance to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and leadership in education. Hayes explained that the students compete at the state level with the aim of qualifying for the national Educators Rising competition in Washington, D.C., this summer.

Overall, Stofer was happy UMSL could show the next generation of teachers what’s possible and how they could make an impact one day.

“I can’t say that every single one of these students are going to be teachers, but right now, that’s their career pathway,” Stofer said. “So right now, they’re looking for a college to go to, to become a teacher. It’s a perfect way for us to host these future teachers and also highlight our College of Education and what we offer.”


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