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From Two Jobs to the Dean's List: Future Teacher Earns Big BreakAspiring high school biology teacher calls teachHouston a 'Godsend'

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August 28, 2008-Houston-
Working in a grocery store by night and squeezing in an office job during the day - all while carrying a full course load - a University of Houston student is breathing a little easier this semester due to a generous scholarship and a stipend.

Jackie Ekeoba is still working her way through college, as are her three siblings, but now she's able to dive headlong into her passion for biology and teaching. Without a car and relying on public transportation, Ekeoba rode the bus to and from school, as well as to and from her job that included many late-night bus rides home after work.

After proving herself in teachHOUSTON, a teacher-preparation program started in 2007 at UH, Ekeoba was approached about increasing her hours as a student worker in the teachHOUSTON administrative offices with the support of a stipend. Thanks to generous donations to the program, she gladly accepted the offer and now has the chance to work on campus. Ekeoba not only performs general administrative tasks, but also is able to practice her skills learned from the program by helping newer teachHOUSTON students with their lesson plans.

Being afforded this opportunity allowed her to devote more time to studying, and now she's getting top grades and is one of six original students who have stayed with the program since its inception. Her staying power and success in the classroom qualified Ekeoba for a $5,000 merit scholarship this year, made possible by a gift from the Sid Richardson Foundation.

"This program has been a godsend to me - a great blessing," Ekeoba said. "Many college students don't know what they want to do, and this is the time to figure it out. TeachHOUSTON really helped me with this and also lets me give back to the community."

First having aspirations toward medical school and then pursuing coursework in the forensic sciences, Ekeoba went through different phases that had the common thread of biology. Then, after helping out one of her older sisters in Bible class, she found out that she really enjoyed teaching and began tutoring at some of the elementary schools she once attended. It was then, in her sophomore year at UH, that she received an invitation in the mail from teachHOUSTON to explore its offerings.

The rest, as they say, is history. Ekeoba is now a senior and has worked with mentors at all three levels - elementary, middle and high school - at participating Houston-area school districts, observing and then completing five supervised assignments in each teacher's classroom. Next fall, she is on track to complete the student teaching requirement for the degree, where she will be the teacher standing solo at the head of the class under the supervision of, and evaluated by, a certified teacher. Ekeoba's ultimate reward will be when she earns her bachelor's degree in biology, as well as her teaching certificate, to pursue her dream of becoming a high school biology teacher.

The teachHOUSTON program at UH is modeled after the successful 10-year-old UTeach format at the University of Texas. UH is the first university to replicate the program outside the UT system. TeachHOUSTON began with 14 students and is the pilot program for future replications of the UT model. Its goal is to help urban schools attract and retain qualified personnel by immersing aspiring math and science educators in public school classrooms early in their college careers.

"Our enrollments have been very healthy, with 123 in the UH program this fall," said Susan Williams, an associate professor working both in the College of Education and College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. "In fact, of the 11 replication sites across the country, UH has the most students enrolled in teachHOUSTON's courses. We have 164 seats filled, with students like Jackie taking three this semester. Donations make work-study stipends and scholarships possible for dedicated students like her."

In the past year, teachHOUSTON donors included the National Math and Science Initiative, the Sid Richardson Foundation, the Greater Texas Education Foundation, Chevron, the Powell Foundation, El Paso Corporation and the Educational Advancement Foundation.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A photo of Jackie Ekeoba is available on the Web at http://www.uh.edu/news-events/archive/nr/2008/08aug/jekeoba-teachHoustonph.html. A high-resolution photo is available by contacting Lisa Merkl.

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Categories: People, Student Success