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Alisha Walker

College of Business alumna
Teach for America corps member

Alisha Walker was born in Nuremburg, Germany, and moved to Auburn with her family when she was five years old. Today, she is a Teach for America corps member and in her second year of teaching seventh- and eighth-grade mathematics at two junior high schools in Sumter County – York West End Junior High in York, Ala. and Kinterbish Junior High in Cuba, Ala. Walker earned her bachelor's degree at Auburn University in international business with concentrations in finance and German in 2011. While at Auburn, Walker served as a student recruiter, University Honors College ambassador, Camp War Eagle head counselor, Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs ambassador and peer instructor for the iLead Orange and Blue freshman learning community. She was a member of the Cater Society and Top 5 Miss Auburn candidate. Walker is an advocate for student leadership and empowerment through education and has led professional development sessions focused on increasing the quality of education that students receive. She has been invited to sit on panels about the achievement gap and is frequently invited to speak at events about her experiences in the classroom as a TFA corps member. Walker serves as local director for the Youth Converts Culture program and will be speaking about the achievement gap at The Challenge, March 22, and the TEDx conference, March 27.

1. How did your Auburn experience prepare you to work for Teach for America?

Academically, Auburn taught me the true meaning of hard work. My classes, both honors and non-honors, challenged me to discipline myself and appreciate the educational opportunities that were available to me through my studies.

The plethora of extracurricular activities, student employment and experiences that I participated in throughout undergrad molded me into the teacher I am today. The beauty of it all is that all these things were working together for my good without my truly knowing the extent to which my life would be affected. I learned how to compassionately and selflessly give back to the Auburn community that had given me so much. I was taught lessons in both humility and respect – two traits that I hold high to and for my students daily. And, I learned how to motivate, mentor and manage students which is extremely helpful now as a middle school math teacher. My work as a student employee enabled me to develop skills related to managing business aspects of a career, which help with the structural management of my classrooms.

Quite possibly the most influential student leadership position that I had while at Auburn was through the First Year and Students in Transition Office as a Camp War Eagle counselor and head camp counselor. Through my involvement with CWE, I learned how to form professional working relationships which enables me to have the courage and know-how when seeking out partnerships with co-workers, parents, administrators and community leaders in the towns that I teach in now. CWE also instilled in me the value of truly doing whatever it takes to work for whatever I believe in while advocating for my beliefs. That has been a constant within the walls of both of my classrooms – to do whatever it takes to ensure that one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

My students constantly ask me, "Ms. Walker who taught you that? Where did you learn this? How do you know how to do that?" Whatever the "that or this" that my students are referring to is, my answer is almost always "Auburn taught me – I learned it in undergrad."

2. What led you to Teach for America?

My desire to find something that I was purposefully passionate about, something that I was compassionately committed to and something that would have the potential to positively influence the life trajectories of young people is what led me to Teach for America. That being said, I never thought that I would be a classroom teacher. For a while, I attempted to run away from what I truly believe is my calling to teach. My mother is a school teacher and I had always, jokingly, told her that I would become a teacher after I had retired from whatever career. As a freshman, I enrolled in the College of Education as a general mathematics major because I had always performed well in my math classes and I figured I would stay in math education until I could figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. By the end of my first semester I had applied, was accepted and transferred into the College of Business. I thought I would be working somewhere in corporate America post-undergrad but as senior year approached, I found myself unsure of what I really wanted to do after undergrad.

I will never forget the day I had my first conversation with Hank Galbreath, development officer for the Graduate School. I walked into the Alumni Center hoping and praying that he would see it fit for me to be an employee in his office, enabling me to stay in Auburn and enroll in graduate school. After our discussion, Mr. Galbreath looked me in the eye and spoke the words, "I cannot be responsible for allowing you to take this position and stay in Auburn simply because it is comfortable for you. You could stay here, work here and go to school and I am sure you would be great at it all. But I am confident, Alisha, that there is something else out there for you. You just have to find it." When he said those things I thought he was trying to let me down easy, be polite and boost my confidence. It was not until later that I actually began to internalize his words and take action to find the thing that truly was out there for me: I was destined to teach. Almost every experience I had throughout high school and college was preparing me to teach – from my first job at Greater Peace Child Development Center to my, at the time, position as a student employee for Alabama Cooperative Extension System. The day after my conversation with Mr. Galbreath I saw a flyer on campus about a Teach for America information session and received an email from a regional Teach for America recruiter. The rest is history.

3. Why is TEDx important? What are you looking forward to sharing during your TED Talk?

This summer I had the opportunity to work as local director of a pilot program called Youth Converts Culture that was founded by Alabama educators Daniel Whitt and Beth Sanders. YouthCC is an education initiative attempting to radically change the mindset of the educational community by focusing all efforts on youth empowerment, specifically through digital communication. YouthCC assists in helping the youth of Alabama learn to use effective and engaging technology that truly enhances curriculum and works to promote empathy by focusing all project goals on togetherness, community and humanity. In the same way, I feel that TED empowers people to use modern technology to change the world. TED is a nonprofit devoted to ideas worth spreading.

During my TEDx Talk, I am looking forward to sharing stories and statistics related to the mindsets, challenges, successes and struggles that I have experienced, and continue to experience, in working toward closing the achievement gap in this nation. It is my deepest desire for students to be empowered and passionately motivated to step outside of their comfort zones and seek to find a global challenge that they are committed to advocate for as a result of their attendance. I believe that this series of TEDx Talks has the potential to plant thoughts in the minds of students that will challenge them to seek understanding and will trigger something deep in their hearts that will all effectually stir them to take action and do something that will change this world for the better.

4. How did you become interested in speaking about the achievement gap?

Considering the fact that even as a classroom teacher I still have a fear of speaking in public, I would have to say that my students are the source of my motivation.

I had the opportunity to be featured in the 2009 Auburn Creed commercial directed by the Office of Communications and Marketing. More surreal than my face being on television during halftime of the 2010 BCS Championship title game was the realization that my voice, as an advocate, is extremely powerful. In that commercial I recited the line of the creed that reads, "I believe in education which gives me the knowledge to work wisely and trains my mind and my hands to work skillfully." And, I truly believe in education with all of my heart. I believe that the youth of this world are our future and that being a classroom teacher is my investment in our future. For those reasons, speaking about the achievement gap is steadily becoming less something I dread—because of my fear of public speaking—and more something I increasingly desire to do.

5. What are your thoughts on the Division of Student Affairs' new Leadership Challenge efforts and how Auburn is attempting to connect students with their passions?

I believe that Ainsley Carry and the Division of Students Affairs created something wonderful when they established the Leadership Challenge last year. The Challenge focuses on issues such as civic engagement, sustainability, poverty and hunger, education and public health. I believe The Challenge is beginning to influence students to take action and become global citizens – no longer confined or restricted to the boundaries and obstacles we set for ourselves when we fail to have a more developed, educated view of the world.

March 18, 2013