INTERVIEWER: I know you are very involved in your local chapter at Montclair State University (MSU), so what led to or inspired you to join NJSEA? At the state level you’re also Outreach Chair, so what led to you accepting your chair position?
LIAN REFOL: A fellow state ambassador at MSU, Allison Plishka, told me about the 2015 NJSEA Leadership Conference. Not knowing anything about this organization at the time or what this event would entail, we decided to take a chance and see what it was all about. After attending our first professional development events on “How to Land Your First Job” and “Setting Student Growth Objectives,” we were immediately interested in joining NJSEA and becoming active members. Since that first conference I attended last year, I am now serving as Montclair State University’s NJSEA President, and Allison is the Vice President. From a personal standpoint, NJSEA stood out to me amongst other organizations because it was dedicated to preservice teachers and offered access to events like the NJEA Convention in Atlantic City.
Prior to accepting my chair position as Outreach Chair and becoming MSU’s President, I was MSU’s Vice President and an NJSEA state ambassador. My responsibilities consisted of holding general body meetings and professional development events at MSU and contacting faculty at other colleges and universities to help establish new NJSEA chapters. Talking to staff and faculty from other colleges and universities while Vice President undoubtedly helped in readying me to become Outreach Chair, and through these experiences, I was lucky enough to work alongside the previous NJSEA Outreach Chair, Ellen Bonitatibus. Working with Ellen also helped me gain early insight on some of the responsibilities held by the Outreach Chair, such as facilitating communications among current and potential NJSEA members and finding ways for NJSEA to be involved within local communities. I was honored when asked to become the 2016 – 2017 Outreach Chair.
INTERVIEWER: NJSEA is lucky you and Allison took a risk in attending that conference last year because you two have been extremely dedicated and hardworking members of the NJSEA team! The work you have done thus far as NJSEA has been impressive as well. So, what are the best things about being Outreach Chair, and what are the toughest aspects? How do you hope to conquer any obstacles that may occur?
REFOL: The absolute best parts of being Outreach Chair is meeting preservice teachers from all over New Jersey and getting to share all of the incredible opportunities NJSEA has to offer. From traveling to National Education Association Summer Leadership Conferences (NEA-SLC), such as last year’s Conference held in D.C., to volunteering within our local communities, I want to help other preservice educators to be a part of these invaluable opportunities. These are amazing experiences and every preservice educator should get a chance to create his or her own special memories. This year’s NEA-SLC is going to be held in Boston, so I hope through my position I can help preservice educators get informed about the event and take advantage of the travel opportunity.
I feel that the toughest aspect of being Outreach Chair is not being able to be everywhere at once. If it were possible, you would find me at every college and university in New Jersey holding information sessions about NJSEA and helping other students find their home away from home within this organization. Luckily, I work with a state leadership team and an executive board at MSU that does an exceptional job of representing NJSEA and hosting a variety of events. I have found that being in constant communication and acting as pillars of support for each other are the methods we’ve established to help us achieve our goals and make being a part of NJSEA so much fun.
INTERVIEWER: It’s great to hear that the chapter at MSU is so strong. Teamwork definitely makes a huge difference. Now to switch topics a bit I’m going to ask the clichéd question every education major hears multiple times in their career: what made you want to be an education major?
REFOL: I want to become a teacher because I want to play a pivotal role in children’s lives and make learning in school fun and worthwhile. I strive to help students establish a love for all subjects and foster his or her confidence to pursue personal ambitions.
Within my undergraduate experience at MSU and my time spent as a member of NJSEA, my passion for teaching has only grown. During my time at MSU, I had the pleasure of being mentored by incredible faculty who personally ensured that I understood the content I would be teaching in the classroom and furthered my abilities to become a culturally responsive teacher. Through NJSEA, I was able to become part of an organization not only on my local campus but also, an association that is connected statewide and nationally. Reflecting on my involvement with NJSEA, I believe it enhanced what I learned in my undergraduate classes and fieldwork and made my preservice experiences that much more relevant and meaningful.
INTERVIEWER: As cliché and redundant as that question may be, I always find it nice to hear why other education majors got into the major and what their hopes are as a future teacher, so thank you for sharing. This next question can pertain to education or just in a general sense; who do you look up to for inspiration and why?
REFOL: In my eyes, my mom sets the standard for what it means to be an educator and an all around incredible person. As a teacher of children with disabilities and a career consisting of over twenty-five years of experience within the education profession, I admire the milestones my mom has helped her students achieve and the energy that she brings into her classroom each day. Compassionate, caring, and exceptionally hard working – she demonstrates vast knowledge and a responsive teaching disposition that I hope to achieve someday in my own career as an educator. Growing up I always thought, I hope to be just like my mom when I get older, and I’m proud to say that I am fulfilling that dream. As I enter student teaching and the final months of my undergraduate career, I recognize my mom as the inspiration behind my own path toward becoming a teacher, and I thank her for always being there for me.