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GCU School of Education Teacher Alumni Win Awards, Recognition

Portrait of a woman smiling

Jeanette Wehner ’09 is certain about one thing: the education she received from the Georgian Court University School of Education helped her land her dream job as a teacher.

Jeanette, Ocean County’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, teaches fifth grade and special education at Emma Havens Young Elementary School, a Brick Township public school.

GCU’s requirement that all graduates have a special education endorsement gives its graduates a leg up on other applicants, says Jeanette. “That was the only way I got my job. I always had the idea in the back of my mind that I wanted to work with students with disabilities. All the positions at that time were special education, so I was so lucky to have that certification.”

Various Awards for GCU-Educated Teachers

Georgian Court University School of Education’s has a reputation for producing outstanding teachers. This is evidenced each year by the growing number of alumni honored for their work in and beyond the classroom. For example, GCU graduate Cathy Famelio ’92, ’99 received the 2016 Monmouth County Superintendent’s Award for her classroom success. And Daren Saler, who completed GCU’s postbaccalaureate K–6 teacher preparation program in the spring, received the 2016 New Jersey Distinguished Clinical Intern Award. (And it turns out that Daren’s mentor, Michael Santiago, is also a GCU alum, having completed the Teacher of Students with Disabilities preparation program in 2006!)

A woman giving an award to a man wearing a suit
Cathy Famelio earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology at Georgian Court. She was honored this year with the Monmouth County Superintendent’s Award for educators.

As Ocean County’s Teacher of the Year, Jeanette will serve on committees and share her expertise about what’s actually happening in classrooms. She credits her training at GCU with giving her the compassion and sensitivity needed to meet the varying needs of today’s students.

“It’s just one of GCU’s values,” said Jeanette, who was interviewed by various media outlets this year. “GCU wants their students to be prepared to teach diverse learners. It’s instilled in you in every class. It’s not as if they come right out and say it—it’s just ingrained. I’ve always had a place in my heart for GCU.”

Teaching and Learning—the GCU Way

When Jeanette instituted a family engineering night at her school, GCU sent three student teachers to help with the stations. Having students come in and observe gives them exposure to what they will experience in the classroom after graduation.

“In order to really help our students, we have to have strong teachers, and that starts with teacher prep,” said Jeanette, who serves on the GCU School of Education Advisory Committee.

Preparing graduates to teach diverse students is what university leaders are most proud of, says Lynn DeCapua, Ph.D., the school’s dean.

“We have an inclusive perspective. Our teachers exit the program eligible for an initial certification plus a teacher of students with disabilities endorsement.”

GCU is selective about who gets admitted to its teacher education program. Students are admitted at the start of the junior year and the cohort grade point average is a 3.0, she says. Emphasis is placed on training students in high-needs areas such as math, science, and English as a Second Language (ESL).

The GCU School of Education—High Standards, High Expectations

The state of New Jersey recently changed its certification requirements, so this is a critical time for teacher preparation, says Dr. DeCapua. There are higher criteria to be admitted and higher criteria to progress and graduate. GCU has 135 pre-education majors and 125 undergraduates pursuing education degrees. There are 100 graduate education students.

“We are selective on who we admit to our teacher prep program. We look for who has the disposition for the profession in the manner in which they interact—communication, collaboration, and demonstration of respect,” says Dr. DeCapua.

This is determined by group interviews. “We want to make sure our candidates demonstrate Mercy core values and concerns and are looking at the whole child and their readiness to learn,” she says.

Students take psychology courses and talk about what their foundational courses mean in relation to the teaching profession. Every lesson contains a context for learning as part of planning, she says.

GCU’s core values of respect, integrity, justice, compassion, and service are woven throughout the curriculum. Students also incorporate technology in their instruction and discuss appropriate and inappropriate uses of social media.

The university’s intense teacher preparation efforts are well known: GCU has strong partnerships with local school districts, and “the educators that GCU chooses to place the student teachers with are really teacher leaders,” Jeanette adds.

Cathy fondly remembers her time at GCU for helping her create the foundation for an award-winning career.

“My education classes were great and gave me my first experiences in the classroom,” says the Monmouth Regional High School biology teacher. “My most influential professor was Sister Pat Burns, who actually helped me decide to go into education. She told me early on and repeatedly to do what I love, and being in the classroom is what I enjoy most.”

(More) Class Acts

2016 New Jersey Distinguished Clinical Intern Award Recipient

Daren Saler, GCU postbaccalaureate graduate student
Studied Elementary K–6 + Middle School Math + Teacher of Students with Disabilities
Taught Math Special Education, William R. Satz Middle School, Holmdel Township
(His cooperating teacher, Michael Santiago, who was also recognized, is a GCU-SOE alum.)

 2016 New Jersey Distinguished Clinical Intern Nominees:

Nicole Blazejewski, Undergraduate
Studied Elementary K–6 + Middle School Social Studies + Teacher of Students with Disabilities
Taught second grade, Laura Donovan Elementary School, Freehold Township Schools

Mariah Cifaldi, Undergraduate
Studied Elementary K–6 + Teacher of Students with Disabilities
Taught third grade, Aldrich Elementary School, Howell Township

GCU School of Education clinical interns have been recipients of the New Jersey Distinguished Clinical Intern (formerly Student Teacher) Award for the last four consecutive years:

2016    Daren Saler; Elementary Education, Middle School Math, Special Education
2015    Joan Garyantes; Elementary Education and Special Education
2014    Charlee Bassillo; Secondary Education English and Special Education
2013    Lauren Russo; Elementary Education and Special Education

Jessica Reuther Mulhern ’14—Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow

Jessica completed her fellowship in the U.S. House of Representatives in the office of John Sarbanes (Maryland, 3rd District). Jessica taught high school biology at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Maryland. For six years prior to moving to Maryland, she taught various biology classes including AP Biology, STEM Biology, and Biology at Jackson Liberty High School in Jackson, New Jersey. Jessica earned a B.S. in Biology from Muhlenberg College in 2007, and an M.A. in Administration and Leadership from Georgian Court University in 2014.

As an Einstein Fellow, Jessica supported Congressman Sarbanes’ efforts to explore expanding the adoption of youth apprenticeship programs in the United States. By attending congressional briefings on career and technical education (CTE) and apprenticeships, Jessica established professional connections with Maryland’s Department of Education and Department of Labor to stay up-to-date on youth apprenticeship programs happening at the state level. Informed by research and meetings with key stakeholders, she developed legislative memos on issues and opportunities for federal apprenticeship legislation. She also engaged in conversations with private and public industries to identify best practices for apprenticeship efforts at the federal level. She returns to the Howard County Public School System in Maryland for the 2016–2017 school year, where she will teach high school biology.

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. GCU is a comprehensive, coeducational university with a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women. As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 2,100 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 15 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates also make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings. The main campus is located in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students at other locations, such as GCU at BrookdaleGCU at Rowan College of South Jersey–Cumberland Campus, and through multiple online certificate and degree programs.

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