At Pittsburg State University’s Spring Commencement this morning, you are bound to see several graduation caps decorated with glittering apples, rulers, pencils, and the like. It’s likely that the wearer of this cap is one of 162 undergraduate students receiving their diplomas as education majors this year.
Pittsburg State University actually began as a teaching college back in 1913, ten years after its official founding in 1903. As the Kansas State Teachers College of Pittsburg, the school operated as a full-fledged four-year university dedicated to training teachers. In the 100 years since, Pittsburg State has expanded beyond teacher training, but continues to graduate many students each year with educational degrees.
As anyone with a school-aged child knows, a caring teacher can be one of the most influential people in a child’s life. Graduating Music Education major Mara Knight understands this important role: “Teachers are so much more than a babysitter or tutor. Our purpose is to look at each student and ask ourselves how we can be what they need that day.” Mara’s minor in Psychology combines well with her passion to teach: “Obviously the educational content is extremely important, but if nothing else, students should leave school knowing that they are noticed, loved, and that they have a purpose.”
Originally from Fredonia, KS, Mara has accepted a position at Carthage (MO) Junior High School, where she will teach choir, show choir, and music appreciation courses. She says the position is her dream job, combining her passion for fine arts and her favorite age group. As a music teacher, Mara believes the arts are vitally important to the student’s understanding of themselves and the world they live in: “My goal as an educator is to create a safe environment where students realize that they have a voice and individual gifts and talents to offer the world. When students leave my influence, my hope is that they are on their way to becoming compassionate, globally-minded citizens.”
Mara has felt the positive impact of music education on her own life. Despite her plans to go into the medical field (“I had a passion for helping people and thought science was interesting as a whole”), Mara realized towards the end of high school that she wanted to influence other students in the same way she had been: “I found myself always in the choir room, leading sectionals, sorting music, and soaking up any information from my choir teacher that I could. I began reflecting on a few of the teachers who had pushed, encouraged and believed in me. I wasn’t sure where I would have ended up without their support. That was when I decided that I wanted to be that person for other students and chose to go into music education.”
Attending Pittsburg State helped to solidify that decision: “Coming from a small town, the environment at Pitt State was a great fit because there were tons of opportunities but with a caring, welcoming feel. When I met professors like Dr. Fuchs and Dr. Marchant, I knew immediately that I would love to study under them.” More than anything, Mara learned the value of working within a support system of peers and mentors: “The last five years have stretched me in ways that I’ve never imagined but have also been very rewarding, mostly because of the people that I’ve experienced those years with and I am extremely grateful.”
Today, as Mara and her fellow education majors cross the stage, give an extra shout or round of applause. Many of these soon-to-be teachers have been shaped by teachers of their own. Like Mara, they look forward to giving back in the same way to future generations.