Meet St. Francis’ first MERIT scholar
By Tina Akouris firstname.lastname@example.org September 30, 2013 6:50PM
USF freshman Jose Ortiz of Joliet. | Supplied photo.
Updated: November 4, 2013 6:05AM
Jose Ortiz has a big distinction to live up to at the University of St. Francis — the freshman soccer player is the school’s first MERIT Scholar in the inaugural year of the program.
“I applied (in February) because I wanted to be a teacher,” said Ortiz, a 2013 Joliet Central graduate. “There were some teachers (at Central) who motivated me to be a teacher, because my senior year I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
That motivation helped Ortiz figure out that he wanted to pursue a degree in education and eventually teach classes in math and art, his double major.
Tracy Spesia, USF’s field experience coordinator and school partnership liaison for the college of education, said MERIT (Multicultural Education Recruitment in Teaching) scholars are required to commit to the teaching profession and once they graduate, get a job in the Joliet school system and stay in that school district for at least five years. Spesia said Joliet school district 86 and the high school district — No. 204 — are involved in the program.
“Looking at the data and the teachers of color in Joliet, the gap is very wide and we want to diversify the teaching corps,” said Spesia, who is also a member of the board of education at District 204.
As part of the program, Ortiz will receive four years of free tuition at USF. He is the first of his family to attend college.
“The past few weeks, the transition wasn’t that hard and having my tuition paid for is something I don’t have to worry about,” Ortiz said. “There were a bunch of emotions, like relief, so I didn’t have to worry about (paying for college).”
Another area university has a similar program.
Lewis University offers the Lasallian Teacher Immersion Program for male students who are majoring in education. The program includes Lewis, Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn., and St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minn.
Spesia said this is the first year of the program, but the selection process started a year ago. Applicants need to meet high academic standards and be a minority.
“It took us a year to pick an applicant for this program,” Spesia said. “District 86 and the high school district will help us find placement for the scholars (after graduation). The districts will give these candidates a first look in job interviews.”
Spesia said that even though the MERIT scholars will be considered the preferred candidate, the MERIT scholar will be free to pursue other options if the districts don’t think they are the right fit for their schools or if there are no jobs to be had.
“They will be able to look elsewhere (for employment),” Spesia said. “When they graduate, there is more likely the chance there will not be a job out there. We thought about that, and with the Merit program there is a larger initiative. They will be able to impact student learning elsewhere.”
And Spesia said the MERIT scholars are always welcome to re-apply at the Joliet school districts if they still cannot find employment outside the district.
Another option for MERIT scholars that Spesia said has not been discussed at length with the university’s steering committee is working in the various private schools in Joliet.
“I see myself being an art and a math teacher,” Ortiz said. “Then, in a couple years, I want to be a counselor or a dean.”