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Alumni of the Month

April 2008
Shakira Brown


Q & A:

What is your edge (strength)?
My strengths are faith and optimism. When I know something is right, I plunge into it and give it 110 percent. I am very optimistic, laid-back and easygoing. As a teacher, you have to be relaxed with the way you approach things – because kids can be so unpredictable!

What at Hofstra gave you your edge?
Honestly, I had some of the most amazing female teachers I have ever had in my life at Hofstra. I did my undergraduate honors thesis with Dr. Maureen Krause – she let me grow and learn at my own pace. Dr. Beverly Clendening in the Biology Department was very caring, warm and personable – and made sure you "got" the material no matter what. My Japanese literature instructor was the one who approached me with the grant opportunity for the U.N.-sponsored Freeman Asian Foundation Scholarship, and helped me submit the forms for the grant. This grant allowed me to travel to Japan in my senior year. It was the first time I traveled outside the United States.

In one word, how would you describe Hofstra?
Life-changing!

What was your major?
Psychology, with a minor in biology.

What was your favorite class?
Molecular Biology with Dr. Krause – she made it simple and applicable. We got to clone DNA from scallops in the lab – it was new technology at the time, and pretty amazing for me to be able to do that!

What is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
I was a member of the Speech and Debate team my sophomore/junior year at Hofstra. I had a great time!

What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing you learned there?
Assistant manager for DKNY in Short Hills, New Jersey. This was my first experience with teaching others. I learned the valuable skill of working with different personalities and people.

What is your field of specialty, and how did you come to work in the industry?
Education – I am a middle school science teacher. I became a teacher by accident. I had initially wanted to be a clinical psychologist and had started post-baccalaureate classes at Rutgers. While working for DKNY, I ended up also taking a substitute teaching position at a New York [City] public school — and that was where I found my gift, and my niche. I really found my "purpose" while subbing.

Who in your field do you most admire?
A teacher named Miss Hester – my mentor, who has been teaching for close to 30 years now in the Newark school system. The fact that she has been teaching in public school for 30 years is completely amazing to me, because it is so easy to "burn out" in the field.

What advice would you give current Hofstra students?
Take as many different classes as you possibly can – do a little bit of everything and then go with what speaks to you – what feels right. I was a psychology major, but my Japanese literature class opened the door to my grant and subsequent trip to Japan. Try a few disciplines before you decide what you want to do. You need to be well-rounded. It helps you relate to people on a lot of different levels.

How do you balance work and life?
It’s challenging. I teach at a year-round school (11 months), 7 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. I let my weekends be my weekends; weekdays are all about work. It is tough, but you find the balance.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I will be a mom and have a Ph.D. in education, and hope to own my own educational consulting firm, and be an education consultant.

What is the single most rewarding experience in your career thus far?
We took 14 of my students to the Galapagos Islands last year. I was allowed to be the lead teacher on the trip. My students had hands-on experience in the field and they actually "got" the concepts of evolutionary science. They did projects based on what they experienced when they got back, and it was rewarding to see how much the experience shaped them.

You’ve been selected by Dr. Stephen Pekar to travel on a National Science Foundation expedition to Antarctica. How long will you be there, and what will be your primary investigation while on this trip?
I will be there for about eight weeks. This expedition will investigate (image) sediments that were deposited in Antarctica during the Greenhouse World (more than 34 million years ago). We are getting the seismic data that will allow for a subsequent trip, where we will be able to drill. I am excited about the adventure and learning experience for myself, but I also feel that as an African-American woman, it is essential that I go in order to show my students – especially my female students – that this kind of incredible opportunity is there for them if they work hard and stay on track.

What, if any, special challenges have you experienced as a New York City school teacher, and how have you overcome them?
The one challenge that any teacher faces is differentiated instruction. How do your reach kids who have different learning styles and different ways of understanding, all in the same classroom? My strategy has been to do a lot of hands-on activities. My science classes are half lecture, but I also let the students see it, touch it, taste it, and smell it where possible, and I find that this helps to reach all levels of ability in the class!

You made a life-changing decision while still a college student to pursue teaching rather than clinical psychology. What is your advice to students who are still trying to decide what path to follow?
Try different things. Be very clear on who you are and what "speaks" to you as a person. When I had tried different experiences, I found my gift. Your gift is something that comes so easily to you, that it doesn’t seem like work. It’s about finding your own path. When you try new and different things, you allow yourself to find that gift. All the opportunities that have come to me so far in my 29 years are really the fruit of what my mother planted in me when I was a child. What I'm doing now is just sharing her enormous gift to me.

Shakira Brown

In recognition of her exceptional talents as a teacher and role model for students, Shakira Brown ’03 will be traveling to Antarctica in fall 2008 on a National Science Foundation grant with Dr. Stephen Pekar. Shakira’s innovative teaching style has earned her accolades throughout the New York City school system.

Shakira’s original intention was to become a doctor, but on the way she discovered her gift: teaching. Her first official teaching experience came as she was trying to figure which type of graduate program she would enter. Shakira’s substitute teaching experience in Newark helped her find this gift and, with the help of mentors, it became a reality. She worked through the alternate route program that Newark Public Schools offered and became provisionally licensed to teach.

After her first year teaching in Newark, she attended the Conference of Teaching and Learning in New York and had the opportunity to hear Geoffrey Canada, president of Harlem Children’s Zone /Promise Academy Charter School, speak. She immediately knew she wanted to do anything to assist in that organization’s efforts. This desire led her to become the new sixth and eighth grade science teacher at Promise Academy.

Shakira grew up in Irvington, New Jersey, with a single mother and four brothers, attending local public schools. Her family didn't have much money, but never lacked attention, encouragement and the basic necessities. Critical sources of encouragement were her mother and several of her teachers. At every grade level, there was always at least one teacher who saw a gift in Shakira, which kept her going in the right direction academically.