University of Arkansas – Fort Smith student Meagan Dooly, walked across the commencement stage this December a full semester early with a bachelor’s degree, a career plan, and a fellowship awaiting her in the new year. Caring faculty who both supported Dooly, and empowered her to seek her true calling, helped her find her place as an educator herself.
The 21-year-old West Fork native earned her Bachelor of Arts in English degree this December, and well before crossing the stage had secured a path to continue her education and pursue her passion of teaching. Today (January 6,) just weeks after her commencement, she will begin working as a high school teacher in Texarkana, while earning her licensure through an Arkansas Teacher Corps fellowship.
“I thought law school was my path, and I even dabbled with ideas of social work,” Dooly said. But an assignment of self-exploration in associate professor of English Dr. Laura Witherington’s class made her rethink her plans. “She asked students to list our personal and career goals, and my heart felt heavy. As I made my list, I realized how much my heart belongs to teaching.”
As she worked toward her degree, Dooly said her professors, in particular, Dr. Witherington, and Dr. Lindsy Lawrence, continually opened her eyes to the power of education. “The professors at UAFS truly care about us, and they have been crucial in building my writing voice, confidence, and desire for teaching others,” Dooly said with pride. “I can’t express my gratitude enough. From allowing me class time to practice my interview, to editing my professional portfolio, to encouraging me and checking in every step of the way, they have been such a blessing.”
“Meagan is a natural teacher,” said Lawrence. “I’ve seen it time and time again in her interaction with her fellow students, the care she has for others, and how she takes complex ideas and translates them into understandable prose.”
Dooly’s career goals throughout her undergraduate studies always focused on assisting children and families, and led her toward a future as an attorney, a social worker, and toward working with families through politics. Dooly even secured an internship in Arkansas’ senior U.S. Senator John Boozman’s office.
“Meagan always knew she wanted to be in a profession that helped people,” explained Lawrence, who served as her academic advisor as well as professor. “But through her capstone work this term, she’s come to want to teach, and as she’s made that decision, she’s really come into her own. The kind of dedication Meagan has to help others is rare, and I think it speaks to the kind of teacher she’ll end up being.”
The goal of Dooly’s fellowship through the Arkansas Teacher Corps - a partnership between the University of Arkansas, the Arkansas Department of Education, and Arkansas public school districts - is to recruit, train, license, and support Arkansans as empowered teachers who facilitate excellent, equitable education.
“The idea of becoming a safe space for children, a person who they can trust and learn from, breaks and warms my heart simultaneously,” Dooly explained. “Arkansas Teaching Corps places students in areas with high needs for teachers, and I am so excited and humbled to partner with this organization and Texarkana public schools.”
Dooly will begin the fellowship this May. She and the other fellows will attend a seven-week summer institute, attend four Saturday professional development events, and fully participate in ongoing classroom coaching provided by Arkansas Teacher Corps staff. Upon completion and meeting all licensing requirements, they will receive a standard five-year teaching license.
“UAFS welcomed me with open arms, smiling faces, and a supportive program. Being a Lion, even through finals week and all the papers, has always been a blessing. From Freshman year to graduating a semester early, I am so proud that I have been able to call UAFS home,” Dooly shared. “My time at UAFS has sculpted the person that I am today, and the freedom our English department offered has given me the chance to mature as a writer and person.”