“In all the Pathways materials mailed to me, I felt special. It was counter to the messages I was getting at school. I truly credit Pathways for dreaming alongside me and even dreaming bigger dreams than I had for myself.”
She’s an award-winning assistant professor of educational psychology, who earned a doctorate in research policy and teaching. So why, by her own admission, does the inside of Lauren’s office look as though she’s teaching in a fourth-grade classroom?
There’s a diorama of a classroom in one spot. In another, there’s a game board related to sleep. Both are examples of work done by students who have been or are being taught by Lauren, a Pathways to College alumna and faculty member of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Lauren specializes in African American child development and her proud display of her charges’ projects is emblematic of the warmth she extends toward them.
“I lean into being close in age to my students,” says Lauren. While attending high school in Virginia, she was part of the Pathways Associate Scholars Program, which guided high school students in 34 states to college acceptance through direct mail for 16 years.
“I try to be my authentic self in the classroom. I listen to some of the same music my students listen to and sometimes I tell them, ‘let’s apply some current song lyrics to theory.’”
When they first walk into her teaching space, in addition to her youth, Lauren might not appear to be who her college students expect to see. Statistics bear out a hard truth — only three percent of Ph.D. holders in the United States are African American women.
“I used to feel nervous that people were judging me,” says Lauren. “But my identities and research expertise make me unique.”
Now, Lauren has even more reason to revel in her singularity. Ball State named her its Outstanding Teacher of the Year for 2020-2021.
Lauren participated in a Pathways to College online celebration to launch its fully remote National Scholars Program, an initiative welcoming Scholars from several locations — including some from nearby Gary, Indiana. Could some of those Scholars possibly soon enroll at Ball State, where Lauren can mentor them? She says she hopes so.
“I saw how excited the Scholars were at seeing their high school mentors and it would’ve been nice to have had Pathways teachers as mentors when I was in high school,” Lauren says.
Lauren continued, “I was often the ‘lonely only.’ There weren’t a lot of other black girls at my school and in my English courses. The characters in the literature didn’t look or sound like me, so being involved in Pathways, a program with people like me in mind, was invaluable.”
Like countless other aspiring college students, Lauren wasn’t entirely sure institutions of higher learning would value her gifts.
“I was not a good test-taker, and I didn’t know if I would even get into college,” Lauren says. “Some of my high school counselors said some schools I wanted to apply to were ‘reaches.’ But through Pathways, I learned test scores are only one evaluation metric. I learned about writing and crafting my personal statement. And in all the Pathways materials mailed to me, I felt special. It was counter to the messages I was getting at school. I truly credit Pathways for dreaming alongside me and even dreaming bigger dreams than I had for myself.”
During her early undergraduate days at the University of Virginia, Lauren originally thought she was going to become a pediatrician. Then, following her passion for both literature and child development, Lauren switched to a double-major in English and psychology. In making that life-changing decision, Lauren flashed back to her Pathways experience.
“Pathways tells you that you have many talents and gifts and encourages you to make of them what you can,” Lauren says. “Pathways doesn’t look to ‘fix’ students who are ‘broken.’ The program works with kids to pursue their passions to go to college, stay there and then continue their success.”