Parkland gives aid to 3 minority students if they return to teach

Parkland gives aid to 3 minority students if they return to teach

CHAMPAIGN Antwanette Newton signed up for classes at Parkland College to learn how to use e-mail.

But her experience there launched her in a new career direction.

Newton is one of three participants this year in the college's PROF program, which pays promising minority students scholarship money to complete degrees if they agree to come back to Parkland to teach.

"I had no computer skills," said Newton, a Champaign resident who was identified by computer science department head Maria Mobasseri as a good candidate for the program. "I'd never spent time on a computer and I knew, to have a new career, I'd need those skills."

Now Newton's headed to Eastern Illinois University to earn a master's degree to be a speech teacher, and she'll return in two years to her new career in a Parkland classroom.

"It's been miraculous," she said. "I went to Parkland to learn how to e-mail people and doors opened that I didn't even know existed. The scholarship will make me feel more comfortable financially because I have to commute, but it's also the honor of it. I've never received an honor before, and to be on Parkland's dean's list every semester was wonderful."

Tameka Cobbs, who is originally from Chicago, started college at the University of Illinois in the early 1990s but then took time off to have two children. She returned to classes at Parkland because "it's a perfect way to get back into school."

Her Latin American cultures teacher Rob Frost recommended that Cobbs, an Urbana resident, apply for a PROF scholarship and she was the second of three winners this year.

"I want to teach English, rhetoric and composition," said Cobbs, who's now commuting to EIU to finish her bachelor's degree.

She said aside from the financial help, the program relieves another worry. "I don't have to worry about the stress of finding a job after I get my degree," Cobbs said.

The third student picked for the PROF program this year was Caleb Klaman of Champaign who will finish a degree in career and technical education at EIU.

Parkland biology teacher Rich Blazier said the PROF program was started in the late 1990s by the Parkland Foundation.

"It's based on the grow-your-own idea," Blazier said. "We pay students a stipend, now about $3,000 for the academic year, to be used any way they want, and for every semester we help them, they come back to teach for a semester."

"A number have come back, then left to go to other jobs," he said. "One got an offer to get a doctorate. The whole idea is to give people experience at a community college and teaching experience so they'll be more competitive. And the program gives us diversity."

Armando Sandoval is a student in the pipeline. He's a University of Illinois junior studying sociology who was inspired by his teachers to consider education as a career.

"Parkland gave me an opportunity, a goal," Sandoval said. "I've talked to a lot of people and they worry about finding a job. I know the people I'll be working with and that's a blessing."

He's thinking about entering a doctoral program and teaching while he earns that degree.

Newton, who had a degree in broadcast journalism and had worked in social services before she changed direction, said her new skills give her a lot of self-confidence – and have earned her new respect from her children.

"I was phobic about computers and couldn't do anything without my children's help," she said.

"I wanted to show them I could do it. Now my daughter asks me for help. I couldn't stand being left behind."

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