Category Archives: Alumni

Alumni Reunite at National Science Teachers Association Convention

Professor Dan Bisaccio reunited with several recent Science MAT alumni at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Conference in Nashville, TN.

Pictured, Prof. Bisaccio poses with Brianna Balke (Science ’13), Warren Predizet (Science ’14), and Beth Leach-Savage (Science ’10). Other MAT alumni in attendance at the conference were Emily Berman (Science ’14) and Natalie Tarr (Science ’15).


The Brown Education Department Speaker Series Presents Dr. Ansley Erickson

The Brown Department of Education hosted another installment of its Speaker Series last week, and was proud to feature Dr. Ansley T. Erickson, Assistant Professor of History and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Erickson co­-directs the collaborative and digital historical research project Educating Harlem.​ Dr. Erickson is a graduate of Brown University, class of 1995, with a B.A. in Education Studies and Political Science.

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As Dr. Erickson began her talk, she remarked how the classroom where we were assembled coincidentally held special significance for her. The lecture hall was the ​location of her first Brown University Education class, taught by the legendary education reform leader Ted Sizer, the Founding Director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform.  We were further honored to have the late Sizer’s wife, Nancy Faust Sizer, present in the audience for Dr. Erickson’s presentation.

American schools today are starkly segregated by race and class. After a few decades of limited attention to this problem, advocates are calling for a new era of desegregation. Dr. Erickson walked the group through her research on the history of desegregation in Nashville, Tennessee, one of the longest-­running, broadest, and most statistically successful school desegregation plans in the country, and indicated how her case study could offer important lessons, and at times cautions, for desegregation efforts going forward.

Dr. Erickson pointed out various systemic roadblocks to true integration. For example, despite the new illegality of school segregation in the 1960s, it continued to be unofficially enforced by the state due to federal suburban home financing only being available to white families. Once busing was introduced, a more genuine integration began, however this still raised the moral question of if a black student’s education was “equal” if they were systemically being told that in order to receive a quality education they must be removed from their communities.

Dr. Erickson argued that fostering equality today depends on reckoning with segregation’s deep roots, desegregation’s complex history, and considering these intricate questions.

“Brown Alumni Analysis” Convenes!

MAT alum Zach Edson (Elementary ’15) reached out to the MAT Program to tell us of a unique way our recent Elementary alumni are supporting each other on their new-found professional journeys.  Read his words below!

“I wanted to share with you something special that recent graduates of the Elementary MAT program have begun. In an effort to support one another professionally and strengthen our own practices, we have formed a professional development group. Our meetings are modeled after our ‘Analysis’ course, and so we are calling the group ‘Brown Alumni Analysis’.

Our first meeting was this past Thursday, and eleven Elementary MATs from ’15 and ’14 got together. We shared work from our classrooms and discussed solutions to dilemmas different teachers are facing in their early teaching experiences.

I wanted to share this because it reflects how our studies at Brown shaped our professional attitudes and gave us the resources to become the best teachers we can!”

Brown Alumni Analysis

Science MAT Alumni Receive Prestigious Knowles Science Teaching Fellowships!


Brianna Balke (MAT ’13) and Emily Berman (MAT ’14)

Over the past five years, three graduates of our MAT Secondary Science program have received the highly selective Knowles Science Teaching (KST) FellowshipsLyuda Shemyakina (MAT ’10), Brianna Balke (MAT ’13), and this year, Emily Berman (MAT ’14) have been named KST Fellows!

Selection criteria for these fellowships include strong content knowledge in the sciences, potential to develop exemplary teaching practices, and possession of the qualities of highly effective teacher leaders.

KST Fellows receive an annual stipend and are eligible for a number of grants throughout their five year fellowship, such as professional development grants (valued at up to $4,000 per year) to cover the cost of relevant activities including workshops, mentoring, practitioner inquiry, and Fellow observations. Fellows are also eligible to receive up to $1,200 per year for teaching materials, and are able to apply for leadership grants to pursue efforts that will have a positive impact on STEM education beyond their own classroom.

Balke and Berman are both science teachers in an urban charter school in Rhode Island, while Schemyakina is a science teacher in Chicago. Congratulations to these teacher leaders on their continued accomplishments!

Brittany Brewer Presents at 2014 NCTE Annual Conference!

In November, the MAT Blog covered an amazing feat — 11 English MAT/UTEP alumni, faculty, and current students descending on Washington, D.C. to attend the 2014 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention.

Since then, one of our current English MATs, Brittany Brewer, has graciously recounted her experience workshopping, networking, and even presenting at the convention. Read her words below!

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The MAT Program at Brown University strongly advocates for student attendance and participation in professional development opportunities. This past November, thanks to the kindness of a respected educator, I was extended the opportunity to present during a roundtable session entitled, “The Future is Now: Exploring 21st Century Teaching Ideas with the Next Generation of English Teachers,” at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention: Story as the Landscape of Knowing. My experience at the 2014 NCTE convention was an invaluable one, particularly as a new teacher, as I had the opportunity to practice presenting my research, observe and participate in workshops, meet numerous young adult authors, and learn about the happenings of Brown MAT secondary English education alumni.

On the third day of the NCTE national conference, Saturday, November 22nd, I presented my teacher research project, “Navigating Non-Fiction through Drama: Using Choral Reading to Create a Transaction with Text,” at the roundtable session to a small but very engaged and supportive audience, which included Brown’s English MAT Director, Laura Snyder, as well as three of the program’s alumni. My teacher research project addressed the essential question: How can drama be utilized to create student understanding of purpose in non-fiction texts? Presenting at NCTE aided in the development of my research as it drove me to complete my research earlier, to seek constant critique and feedback, and to present the material in front of several different types of audiences.

When I was not presenting, I was exploring the numerous workshops NCTE offered its conference attendees. I participated in many presentations, from several created by diligent graduate students to those created by educational “celebrities,” including Jim Burke and Kelly Gallagher. After reading a sizable portion of these authors’ texts over the past summer and fall as part of the MAT curriculum, it was great to see them in action, discussing and developing education with fellow advocates. During the workshops, I filled my journal with pages of notes and afterwards, I waited for the opportunity to converse briefly with presenters. During exhibit hours, attendees were also offered the opportunity to meet various authors of all genres of prose, from children’s books to poetry, fantasy, and non-fiction. Not only did I fill my canvas bags and arms with all of the complimentary copies of young adults’ novels that I could carry and meet my favorite childhood author, T.A. Barron, but I was able to meet and briefly talk to Jeffrey Wilhelm, an alumnus of the Brown University MAT English program! Dr. Wilhelm’s publication, “You Gotta BE the Book”: Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading with Adolescents, greatly informed my teacher research project and I relished the opportunity to discuss the program and the influence his text had on my research, even briefly.

Finally, the NCTE Annual Convention provided me with the opportunity to meet and learn about the endeavors of recent Brown English MAT alumni, who, among those I met, are teaching in locations ranging from California to Maryland to Massachusetts to Africa. The presentations and stories of these fellow MATs from years past revealed dedication and compassion that (like my audience’s support of my presentation, the workshops I attended, the speakers I met, and the hundreds of educators in attendance) further fueled my dedication and passion as a new teacher!

Thank you, Brittany!

Community, Equity, Positivity: Science Alumni Reflect on their MAT Years

Each year, many members of our vibrant MAT cohort consist of the the Science concentrators: students focusing on broadening and deepening their knowledge in Biology, Chemistry, or Engineering/Physics while training to become secondary school teachers.  We asked a few of our Science MAT alumni to share their thoughts on how their Brown education influences their current experiences as educators in science.

EmilyEmily Berman, Science MAT ‘14

Thanks to my experiences with the MAT program, I have entered my first year of teaching with confidence, focus, and, most importantly, an ability to reflect on my practice. The MAT program has taught me to be a conscious educator, and I am grateful that I am able to use the skills I have been taught to put together a strong lesson, and then afterwards to think critically about how I can improve upon it. The quality of reflective practice made me a strong candidate for teaching positions, and has been invaluable in the classroom. I am teaching 7th and 8th grade science, and I feel that the MAT program’s emphasis on reflection has helped me become more responsive to my students’ needs. During my year in the program, I was pushed to take risks and try new things with my students, and this also has been a great asset to my classroom teaching. I am having so much fun during my first year of teaching, and I really do feel I can attribute that to the attitude that the MAT program instilled in me!

Brianna-BalkeBrianna Balke, Science MAT ‘13

When I started the MAT program in 2012, I had a strong sense of what kind of teacher I wanted to be, but lacked the practical skills to transform that idealistic vision into reality. The MAT year provided me the opportunity to develop those skills in a supportive environment, while also pushing me to deepen and broaden my sense of how I could be a powerful agent of social change in the classroom. I am particularly thankful for the opportunities I had to engage with incredible faculty, mentors, and thoughtful, passionate teachers around what it means to create equitable, student-centered, inquiry-based classrooms that focus on students as individuals. The relationships I built with my faculty, mentors, and fellow teachers continue to sustain me in my teaching practice today.

Last year I taught at a school in my home state of Colorado, but I am now back in Rhode Island, teaching at Blackstone Academy, where I did my student teaching two years ago. I loved my student teaching experience so much that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to return as a full-time teacher when a position became available. I could not be more excited to be at a school that shares the same values as the Brown MAT program: a focus on community, equity, positive school culture, and individualized learning.

MATs Descend on Washington D.C. for NCTE Annual Convention


On Sunday evening, English MAT students, faculty, and Providence-area alumni and mentor teachers gathered to hear in-person and Skype previews of some of this year’s presentations for the 2014 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention. Presenters connected through Skype from California, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Burkina Faso! The event provided a great opportunity for rehearsal and was also designed to inspire current graduate students to take their own teacher research to the national stage.

Eleven English MAT/UTEP alumni, faculty, and students then descended on Washington, D.C. this week to take part in the NCTE convention from November 20-23.  MAT Professor Laura Snyder will be presenting with a group of four alumni on “Young Adult Literature as Part of a Social Justice Curriculum”. Their presentation will highlight key books taught in English classes at Brown Summer High School and peek into the alumni’s current classrooms around the world. Several of these teachers are also presenting their own research or presenting curricula with their schools and districts.

Waldina Pineda (MAT ‘11) will be presenting with others from her district on transforming their ninth grade English classes into a “readers and writers workshops”. Michelle Ramadan (UTEP ‘10) will present about understanding the Middle East through literature. Erik Skogsberg (MAT ‘09) will be speaking about teaching diverse learners. Brittany Brewer (MAT ‘15) will be presenting her recently completed Teacher Research Project, inspired by her work in arts literacy, on “Navigating Non-Fiction with Drama”.

Professor Snyder has also been leading an alumni panel at the NCTE conference for the past four years. This year’s panel features Sara Tahir (MAT ‘14), Debbie Yoon (MAT ‘13), Emily Scherer (MAT ‘13), and Eric Spreng (MAT ‘13).

Stay tuned for a recap following the conference!

English MAT alumni offer free Shakespeare summer camp

Jaymes Sanchez '14 and Laura Neill '14 share their love of reading with campers at the Youth Shakespeare Project

Jaymes Sanchez ’14 and Laura Neill ’14 share their love of literature with campers at the Youth Shakespeare Project

Two recent English MAT graduates, Laura Neill ’14 and Jaymes Sanchez ’14, are putting their degrees to use this summer at the Youth Shakespeare Project (YSP) in Hanover, NH. Founded by Laura and Jaymes in 2012, the Youth Shakespeare Project is a tuition-free summer camp for local students ages 11 to 17. Each summer, campers explore one of Shakespeare’s plays through text study, theater games, and movement and improvisation. The month-long camp culminates in a production of this year’s selected play, As You Like It. Their experience running the YSP in 2012 inspired Laura and Jaymes to pursue a career in teaching English, leading them to the Brown MAT program. This summer Laura and Jaymes will be implementing multimodal ArtsLiteracy activities from their MAT methods classes to develop YSP campers’ literacy skills and engagement with the text.

Learn more about the Youth Shakespeare Project through their website, and keep up with this summer’s production of As You Like It through their Facebook page.

Annual Brown MAT Teacher Research Project Conference

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Last week saw the successful climax of a major endeavor for all Brown University MATs – the Teacher Research Project. Fondly known as the TRP, Teacher Research Projects involve each MAT, Elementary and Secondary English, History/Social Studies and Science cohorts alike, in examining their teaching practice with the goal of greater student growth and improved outcomes. During their student teaching semester, MATs identify an area in which students in their classroom are particularly struggling. Through an inquiry process, MATs then choose a guiding question, implement one or multiple interventions, collect data, analyze results, and report findings, implications and future investigations. The questions MATs chose to pursue this past semester speak to the range of MAT interests and an understanding of their learners’ needs, such as “How can podcasts be used to support student learning in multilevel secondary social studies classrooms?” and “How does explicit coaching and instruction on student questioning during math promote inter-student math talk?”

As has been tradition for several years, the presentations took place at Brown’s Office of Continuing Education in Providence’s Jewelry District. In attendance were Brown MAT alumni, mentor teachers, program faculty, family and friends of the program, as well as two featured speakers.

Providing an insightful keynote address to kick off the Teacher Research Project Conference was Jed Lippard ‘95, Head of School of Prospect Hill Academy Charter School. Lippard spoke briefly about his 20-year story in becoming an educator and school-leader, including his relationship with well-known education reformer and former Brown University professor Ted Sizer. He then presented his seven C’s for becoming a responsive teacher, each of which Lippard backed-up with personal anecdotes. Although we won’t go into detail, the seven C’s resonated across the audience and include: Check assumptions, find Conspirators, self-Care, Call it out, Cater to and cherish the child, Challenge conventional wisdom and, last but not least, Convene and connect. Lippard will be returning to Brown University on Saturday, May 24th, for a forum with Nancy Faust Sizer.

Longtime mentor teacher and friend of the Brown MAT program, Edward Abbott, History Teacher at Central High School, gave the mentor address. Abbott reflected on his years of relationship-building and teaching and learning with MAT student teachers that have been a part of his classroom. As Abbott is retiring from teaching this year, friends and past mentees were invited to reflect on what they have learned from Abbott, from teaching skills to life lessons. The sheer number of those who spoke about Abbott and the multitude of laughs and tears inspired are testament to the dynamism of this master teacher and mentor, as well as the close knit community that is the Brown MAT program.

Spotlight on Alumni: Eric Spreng ’13


In this Spotlight on Alumni, English MAT alum Eric Spreng shares his insights for those considering the MAT program. Along with his wife, Allison (History MAT ’13), he is now based at the International School of Ouagadougou, in Burkina Faso. Both Allison and Eric exemplify the wealth of life experiences you’ll find across the Brown MAT cohorts.

What were you doing before the program?
Before coming to Brown, I spent three years teaching 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts at an international school in Beijing. The professional environment at the school was supportive and collaborative, and the experience pushed me into the questions that ultimately landed me at Brown: How can I facilitate an environment that is more conducive to learning? How do I foster a sense of belonging in the individuals in a learning community? How can I better account for disparate student backgrounds? What can I do to promote human sensitivity as well as knowledge and skills?

What attracted you to Brown’s program?
I was attracted to the program’s emphasis on mentorship, reflection, and personalized feedback. The fact that the MAT year includes two practicums was important, as was the teacher research component. But most importantly, perhaps, was the fact that the program is intentionally small. As the teaching placements are central to the MAT experience, I wanted a director who actually knew me personally and could advise me based on my own interests, strengths, and areas where I needed to grow.

What was the highlight of the program?
To be honest, the whole year was great. The program is well-designed to develop a strong understanding of pedagogy and to provide the chance to develop expertise in your content area as well. That said, the professional relationship that I had the chance to cultivate with my mentor teacher has proven a tremendous resource to me since completing the program.

Where did you student teach?
I student taught at Classical (a Providence public school) and had a really positive experience there.

How did the program meet your expectations?
The MAT year is intense. There is so much to learn and to process and before you know it, it is over. Since completing the experience, I have found that many of the questions that arise in my teaching practice were in some way addressed by the MAT program. One year is not long enough to answer all of these questions, but I do feel the program provided what I need in order to pursue the philosophical and pragmatic questions through further research and practice.

How did the program help you meet your personal goals?
The program provided the chance to push myself toward excellence in a close-knit, supportive community. The friendships that I was able to make with young teachers have been a tremendous professional asset to be sure, but also a source of personal joy and inspiration. Spending a year with such inspiring, brilliant people was awesome.

What do you like best about your work as a teacher?
I love that teaching is never boring. It is always a challenge. I love that I get to work with talented young people who have something to say, and that I can help them develop the skills to say it. And I love engaging on the big ideas that matter—both in my classroom with my students and in the faculty lounge with my colleagues.

What would you tell someone considering the Brown MAT?
Do it! The Brown MAT program is well designed. It is flexible enough to provide the chance for you to pursue your own areas of interest within the field as you strive to develop the competencies that are necessary to be a great teacher.

Anything else?
As an MAT, go to lots of talks and events, and make connections beyond the department as well. As a teacher, at some point in your career, consider teaching abroad. My wife, Allison (History MAT ’13), and I are currently at the International School of Ouagadougou, and we are loving it. Our classes are full of kids who come from countries all over Africa, Europe, North America and beyond. We are learning a lot about what it means to be teachers in the 21st century, and what skills are most important for success in a more connected world.