This month’s alumni spotlight features Joanne Choi, a 2020 graduate from the Teaching of English Master’s program! Choi currently works in marketing at an educational staffing and recruiting firm, and she was able to share with us a bit about her experience at TC. Read on to learn more about Choi’s journey at Teachers College!

What drew you to TC?

Initially, I was drawn to TC because of its emphasis on social justice and how it is embedded into the College’s curriculum. Before starting graduate school at TC, I was a secondary English Language Arts teacher in the greater New York City area. I sought to enroll in a teacher education program that would provide me with a graduate education that would balance the theoretical, experiential, and practical components of K-12 urban education. 

As Columbia is an Ivy League institution with the nation’s oldest and largest graduate school of education, I was drawn to TC’s reputation and internationally recognized faculty members who could guide me in learning how to enact positive change as a teacher within the community of New York City — and beyond.

Did you have fieldwork or internship experience in your program at TC? If so, how did this impact your experience and decision to pursue your professional career?

During my first semester of graduate school, I was placed as a ninth-grade English Language Arts student teacher and writing center consultant at Stuyvesant High School in New York City to fulfill my student teaching requirement. I was also placed as a ninth-grade American Literature student teacher at Bergen County Academies in New Jersey during my second semester at TC. 

By gaining firsthand experience in the classroom, I learned how to put my passion for the study and teaching of English Language Arts and Literature into practice while developing valuable classroom management, pedagogical, and communication skills through working closely with students. 

After approximately nine months of student teaching, I grew knowledgeable about the roles and responsibilities of being a teacher. However, while this experience was valuable, it ultimately made me realize that I did not want to pursue teaching as a career. 

By identifying my professional strengths and weaknesses, I discovered what I wanted from a profession. After graduating from TC with an MA in Teaching of English, I transitioned into another industry that better suited my skill set: writing/editing, content development, and marketing.

I’ve since worked in marketing roles at a higher education institution, a digital marketing agency, and an educational staffing and recruiting firm, where I currently work.

Even though I didn’t ultimately pursue my goal of becoming a teacher, I am still very grateful for my experience at TC because it provided me with a valuable professional network, a world-class education at a globally ranked university, and the opportunity to work in multiple roles and industries before discovering which was the best professional fit for me.

Do you feel like the location of TC, both NYC and Morningside Heights, had an impact on your education? How so? 

Absolutely. Attending graduate school in a city as diverse as New York City provided me with the invaluable opportunity to interact with students and faculty from nearly every part of the world, which was instrumental in broadening my perspective of people, culture, and education. Because New York City is an epicenter of business, arts, technology, and finance (and more), I believe that attending graduate school in Manhattan helped me to become more cognizant about the intersectionality between multiple professional industries. 

As an educator in the New York City public school system, I learned how schools, students, and the practice of teaching can be largely influenced by a diverse environment like New York City. Knowing this helped me to better understand and address the unique challenges facing my urban students, who were often underserved.

Beyond Morningside Heights, it was especially convenient to travel around the city because Columbia University has its own subway station, which gave me the opportunity to explore nearly every part of Manhattan — restaurants, coffee shops, bars, libraries, parks, and much more — by utilizing the highly navigable public transportation system. I also enjoyed studying in Morningside Heights, which allowed me access to many of Columbia University’s facilities, such as the libraries, academic buildings, and gymnasium. 

What do you miss the most about TC?

I miss the opportunities to conduct academic research as a graduate student at TC. Beyond my coursework, involvement in extracurriculars, and part-time employment, I was a research assistant at the Language and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at TC. Specifically, I was involved with a study of numerical cognition using electroencephalography (EEG) methods with adults and cognitive testing with 2-4-year-old children. Throughout this experience, I had the chance to conduct quantitative research on language with an emphasis on neuroscience, which supplemented what I was learning about the usage and teaching of language qualitatively in the context of secondary English education.

I also enjoyed presenting my independent research project, “Uncovering the Model Minority Narrative: A Case Study on Asian American Students at High Achieving Schools,” at academic research conferences and events nationwide. In 2019, I was selected as a top 10 student research poster session finalist at TC’s annual Academic Festival event. Fortunately, I’ve had the chance to present my research project at 15 conferences at globally recognized postsecondary organizations and institutions, including the American Educational Research Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, Northwestern University, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, Columbia University, and the University of California at Berkeley. 

Fortunately, I was generously provided with funding through TC from a grant from the English Education program and the Provost’s Grant for Conference Presentation and Professional Development. The funding helped to cover the cost of travel expenses, lodging, and conference fees.

Even as an alumna of TC, I’ve had the opportunity to attend research conferences after graduating from TC. I’ve served as a session chair, peer reviewer, and conference planning committee member for multiple research conferences. Ultimately, being able to conduct and present research has provided me with a more well-rounded and comprehensive understanding of education within the context of K-12 schooling. 

What is the number one piece of advice you would give to current or future TC students?

I would encourage students to actively network with classmates and professors as well as get involved in the many extracurricular opportunities at TC. When I first started attending TC, I believed that I would focus primarily on academic coursework, but I soon discovered that there was an extremely rich student life at TC with many opportunities to get involved. 

By my final semester at TC, I had served as the co-president of Kappa Delta Pi, the national honor society in education, and co-founded the inaugural Arts and Humanities Student Council. Through getting more involved on campus, I was able to meet numerous inspiring and intellectual colleagues from various departments and programs at TC. I found valuable the opportunity to actively help develop a more inclusive university culture at TC by creating opportunities for students to network, learn together, and make new friends and acquaintances.

(Edited for length.)

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