Alumni Spotlight: Aukeem Ballard
February 18, 2013
Hailing from Tacoma, Washington, Aukeem Ballard ’11 used to joke about how funny it would be if he one day became a teacher. A few years and a few college degrees later, Aukeem changed his tune. After receiving his bachelors and masters degrees from Lewis & Clark, this Woodrow Wilson Rockefeller Brother’s Fund Fellow can be found teaching communication and social studies at Lane Middle School in southeast Portland. The Center for Career and Community Engagement caught up with him to learn about his Lewis & Clark experience and how he found his career path.
Center for Career and Community Engagement: You’ve had quite a remarkable and fast-paced journey since completing your undergraduate degree. Can you tell us a bit about your graduate studies and new position?
Aukeem Ballard: I started roughly a month after we graduated in May 2011 in the M.A.T. program at Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education & Counseling. It is a full time 13 month program with a wide variety of diverse experiences and academic pursuits that all challenge you to think about, read about, write about, and practice education on both an abstract/ theoretical and practical level. For 13 months, as I often joke with some of my M.A.T. colleagues, I was a “monk” of education. It was an incredibly fast paced environment that challenged me academically, emotionally, and physically. In the end, I was able to secure a position with Portland Public Schools as a teacher at Lane Middle School where I fulfilled the internship component directly preceding my placement there as a teacher. I have the honor and privilege of teaching sections of Communication, 7th grade Social Studies, 8th grade Social Studies, and after school slam poetry with my former Mentor-Teacher from the graduate intern program.
3CE: What inspired you to pursue a career in teaching?
AB: As an academic and activist I am a product of a wide variety of academic and youth enrichment programs. As a kid I often joked about how hilarious it would be if I wound up as a teacher as I liked school but sometimes failed to do the work necessary to shine. I was always a tenacious classroom participant, but reluctant to do some of the work in late middle school and early high school. Slowly, I had a barrage of teachers that challenged with a singular sentiment, “you can be anything you want, but you have to do the work to get there.” With that I was able to push further and further to strive for what my mom noted as the one thing that they could not take away from you – your education. To that end, I shied away from the whimsical notion of classroom employment and explored other paths in college. I began to look back on my experiences the summer leading up to my senior year as a Paralegal Intern for a law firm that served only clients that were at or below the poverty line. Again and again I was exposed to unfortunate and often traumatic situations. I heard story after story, law after law, and multiple court hearings. There was a common theme: these citizens had not been dealt an even hand through their education – the single experience that was supposed to prepare them for an engaged, healthy, and productive life in our society. Thus, I began thinking seriously about Teach for America and education related fields. After meeting with 3CE and Associate Dean Brand, I was pointed in the direction of the Woodrow Wilson Rockefeller Brother’s Fund Fellowship that would eventually provide me with a substantial grant to pay for grad school.
3CE: How has your liberal arts education prepared you for life beyond college?
AB: Everything I did from extra and co-curricular activities to 2AM thesis drafts allowed me to consider how some in our society have come to have some quality opportunities and others have not. With that in mind, I did a series of internships (some at Lewis & Clark and some not) that broadened my outlook on life. It was not until the beginning of my senior year that I began to sharpen my opinion on the role of education.
In the classroom I wrote constantly. I looked at the society around us through various academic lenses. In doing so, I was given the opportunity make connections among various disciplines. Slowly, I would start to make those connections explicit. I realized that I was being challenged to think deeply and critically. Suddenly, answers were secondary to curiosity and questions. My pedagogy rests firmly on that notion.
Through my degree in communication, I had to become a researcher, an avid writer, a social-scientist, a proficient oral communicator, and a rhetorician of sorts. All of which are assets when teaching students.
3CE: What has surprised you most about life after college?
AB: The amount I still use my degree. I am called on regularly in my job, in my professional networks and committees outside of work to support efforts to strengthen lines of communication among and between groups and individuals. Additionally, many of the theorists I studied in undergrad are applicable to many ideas, concerns, and issues within the field of education.
3CE: Who was/is your support along your career path?
AB: I have had many supporters along this path. Tricia Brand and Minda Heyman were strong advocates throughout the fellowship process. Kelly Hoover in Campus Living has been a strong support since my freshmen year, and continues to be so to this day. Dr. Jerry Harp started out as my academic advisor and remains a strong support system as a friend to this day. I am constantly supported by my mentor that I met when I was 9 years old. Of course, my mom supports me non-stop as well as my close friends. Lastly, my teacher-mentor, Bryan Chu, and another teacher from my grad school internship site, Lynn Talent, both work in my current placement and still support me tremendously.
3CE: What would you tell students, if anything, about 3CE? How, if at all, did 3CE help prepare you for this opportunity?
AB: Outside of the above mentioned instances of support, I remember hearing Minda, Enid, and Adonica telling me multiple times that “it’s never too early to start thinking about professional preparation.” I listened and took every opportunity I could to work on resumes, interviewing and networking skills, job search, and volunteer opportunities. I was able to get a lot of practice in to the point where I was ahead of the curve in that regard when I reached graduate school. The one piece of advice I would give to students is to put yourself out there as early and often as possible. Even if you don’t get the internship freshman or sophomore year, you still get the real life interview practices and expand your network. Remember, no prospective employer ever asks you about the jobs for which you were passed over.
Want to read more about Aukeem’s journey through the Portland Public School system? The Portland Tribune featured Aukeem in a recent story about PPS’s new teacher mentoring program.