Why are you an education major?
JESSICA QUIJANO: Well, it might sound cliché, but I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I think part of the reason is because I was considered a below average student in literacy, but talented in math and science. I’ve had the struggle where I’m bored in class, because I’m an advanced learner, but also the experience that I am struggling and didn’t know what to do with myself. It was my teachers I’ve had that noticed that in me, and they helped me learn how to balance it. I was given the attention I needed when I didn’t know I needed it. I just feel like when you’re a teacher you’re able to make a difference in a child’s life, whether it’s giving them the attention they need or just human actions. As a teacher, you notice struggles kids are having and try to help them, whether it is academic struggle or a physical one, like helping them eat when they’re hungry. You try to help them with their struggles and to feel better about themselves.
REBECCA TAKACS: Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always been there to teach. I remember helping my little cousin when she struggled a bit in school. From a young age, I supported her and supplemented her reading. I just love to teach. I love sculpting the minds of young kids, because they are our future after all, and I want to be a part of that.
Individuals on the NJSEA Executive Board need to work with many people from various backgrounds to accomplish goals. Could you please describe your style of working with others?
QUIJANO: I would say that as much as I’m a leader, I’m also a team player in that I’m able to delegate tasks, but also help people through them. I believe everyone is equal, regardless of position, and everyone has responsibilities. I think that knowing that your Vice President is the same as you, with her own responsibilities, always willing to help, makes people more comfortable. It’s not a tyranny, it’s a community and a family.
TAKACS: I work well with other people. I give 110% every time. You can talk with me easily and I’m open to new and interesting ideas from other people. I like to work with people collaboratively, because in this world you can’t work by yourself to accomplish goals, you need to have some sort of support in order to get the best results.
Can you give an example of your leadership style through an education-related experience?
QUIJANO: I would say I definitely displayed this when I was an art teacher at a Polish summer camp last summer. I worked with teaching assistants in my classroom, but I made it more equal than just me doing everything myself. I let everyone share in the responsibilities in order to allow everyone to gain insight, knowledge, and experience, rather than keeping the whole experience and show for myself. This way, we were all able to learn and grow together.
TAKACS: We have a tutoring program at FDU and through there I work with some of the people in our chapter and education program. I’ve worked with people to enhance the tutoring program, making sure people sign up, they are going, meeting with their students, and keeping up with their responsibilities. I have to work with others to make sure the members are on the right track. Two years ago, I helped develop the program with our president, Melany [Reyes], and a few of the other students. It’s nice to see the program developing and working well for the students.
What aspect of your undergraduate career are you most proud of?
QUIJANO: I would say my flexibility and my desire to learn more. Having been in different majors allows me the opportunity to know what I want to do. I entered college as a biology secondary education major, and switching into my current major with STEM taught me I need to be happy with my own choices in order to share myself and my knowledge and skills. You need to make a change in yourself first to get the end product that you want, sometimes. The experience taught me to always continue learning more about myself in order to be the best I can be both professionally and personally.
TAKACS: I’m writing an undergraduate thesis on math anxiety and introducing the idea of a mathematics workshop. I’ve been working with my mentor and we’ve been developing plans for the workshop. To be able to have my thesis published for the school [Farleigh Dickinson University] is pretty rewarding and I’m going to use it [the topic] to work on my Master’s thesis next year. I’m hoping to expand that idea and work with it further in my future in education. It’s something I know is very important for both students and educators to know about and address.
Who would you say has impacted you the most throughout your undergraduate career as a pre-service educator?
QUIJANO: I would say my advisor has impacted me the most in that she has always been a resource for me. When I travel or am having trouble with something, she always gives me the tools I need to work toward a solution to my problem, such as websites, books, or stories to help me. She’s always there with an open door to support me. She’s taught me that no one is perfect and you should embrace your imperfections; rather than say, “Oh, I’m not good at this,” say, “What can I do, and what steps can I take to make myself better?” Knowing that in a lesson it’s not going to be perfect allows you to be less stressed about it. Your whole lesson isn’t ruined, you can adapt and be positive.
TAKACS: It would have to be my mentor, Dr. Singer. She is my advisor and my mentor for my thesis and she has just been amazing; she’s done everything, and really helped me structure my thesis and what I want to do for my education and future. She’s been there helping me every step of the way. To learn from her is amazing because she’s helped me grow as a future educator. She’s taught me to be open to different students and to be a strong teacher leader. She’s taught me her persona- proper classroom management and how to be respected in your classroom.
Which course at your university was most meaningful to you? Why?
QUIJANO: That’s a hard one. I would say there are two courses. My Science Methods course taught me a lot. I took it [the course] at a time when I didn’t love science, and my professor taught me to embrace it rather than push it away. She helped show me that perspective of my students; what if students in my future class feel the way about a subject as I do about science? I was able to watch how she connected with me, and made the class more hands-on to engage me. It was a great experience for me because she modeled how I can teach similar students in my future classes. The other course would be my Conflict Resolution class. It taught me a lot about myself and how students need to know about themselves in order to be able to solve conflicts. They need to know things like: what is their tipping point, what bothers them, what can you do for yourself? There’s not one single way to solve a conflict, because it’s based on your personality. Conflict resolution has lots of variables and the techniques I’ve learned in that class have taught me to resolve problems both in my classroom and my general life.
TAKACS: It would have to be my Problem Based Strategies in Mathematics Class. When I learned math when I was younger, it was just one way that we learned math, but she [the professor] introduced different ways that we could teach math and allowed us to create lesson plans to make sure our students were actively engaged. I was able to show my creativity in my lesson plans; I had one where I had the class do aerobics, making the angles out of their arms. You can’t teach math until you actually do the math and understand it. It was a refresher course, but it also enhanced our skills that we learned previously to show us how to best teach math.
Why do you think you would be a good fit for the role of NJSEA Vice President?
QUIJANO: I think I am highly qualified for this position and I’m passionate about it. Through my experiences of being on the leadership team of NJSEA these past three years, being an active member on campus, and being an active member of NJSEA on a state level, I think there’s so much I can contribute. I am well-spoken, and I like different forms of communication with other members. I also think that through this position I can create opportunities for other campuses rather than just my own. I think I’m the right person for the job because I have seen NJSEA grow and have been a part of that process.
TAKACS: I would be a good fit for Vice President because I want to help enhance the NJSEA program and organization. I’ve been involved in my chapter, but I really wanted to give this a shot and become the leader I know I can be. I want to connect and network with other people from NJSEA and make sure we’re all getting the best out of this experience. I want to give back to NJSEA what it’s given me the last three years I’ve been a part of it.
Do you have any specific or general ideas you are hoping to bring to NJSEA?
QUIJANO: I know we [NJSEA] used to have a newsletter, but now that we’re sometimes in The Review, it’s been more on the President to send out monthly updates. I think maybe bringing back the newsletter would be a good idea in order to unite all the campuses. I know TCNJ’s campus, that’s my home, but being able to know what’s happening at FDU [Farleigh Dickinson University], Rowan, Seton Hall, etc., having that community and uniting everyone and telling each campus’ story- I’d want to work on that. Also, I want people to get involved in their local associations, in addition to what we’re already doing with the county associations. I think these things would benefit our organization and its members.
TAKACS: I think I’d like to maybe do something with bullying and also math anxiety. These are problems right now in the field of education and I think workshops on these topics would help teachers both with their students and themselves.
Is there anything else you’d like to say? Is there anything else you want members to know about you?
QUIJANO: I just want people to know I’m excited for this opportunity and I want to thank everyone for allowing me to have the opportunity to be in this race. There is also a quote I know, “From the outside looking in, it’s hard to understand. And from the inside looking out, it’s hard to explain.” And I think that NJSEA as a whole definitely defines that quote. Being a part of the leadership team, you impact so many things and you’re involved with so much. If you told “freshman me” I was in the leadership position I am in today, I would have laughed and said you were crazy. I thought the union was only political, and, to be honest, it scared me a little bit. But knowing everything I do, gaining valuable professional development, going to conferences and conventions, networking with professionals and pre-service educators across the country and state, I am now more knowledgeable about the problems that teachers face. It’s important we use our voice to secure our future.
TAKACS: I just want to reiterate that I will give 110% given the opportunity, and I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to be Vice President.