Finding Connection and Passion in Education

Many believe that teaching is a calling. Neither Janet Diaz nor David Jones, both Cooke Scholar Alumni, planned on pursuing careers in education. Yet both eventually found themselves back at their alma maters, teaching alongside educators who had previously taught them. The connections they made at their former schools helped forge a path for each of them to return to their academic communities of origin and make a difference in the lives of future generations.

Janet Diaz with her Teacher of the Year recognition

Janet Diaz was first awarded a Cooke Scholarship as a Young Scholar while she was attending Applied Learning Academy (ALA), a middle school in Forth Worth, Texas. Receiving the scholarship sparked her interest in the higher education admissions process and the college access pipeline. She says, “the Cooke Foundation provided me with an abundance of resources, and I spent much of my time as a Young Scholar thinking about how these resources could be used to reach even more students.” In college, she considered a career in education policy, but ultimately decided to pursue her interests in the field as a teacher.

Janet felt connected to her former middle school, ALA, as all of her siblings had attended the school as well. She also had close ties with some of her former teachers, who she credits with “creating opportunities for me to be a competitive applicant for the Young Scholars program.” She says that having the opportunity to work alongside her mentors is one of the key reasons she chose to return to ALA to begin her career as a teacher.

In her first year teaching Social Studies at ALA, Janet was already making an impact. She was chosen for a prestigious Teach Plus Fellowship, which allowed her to work alongside some of the top teachers in the state. Towards the end of her time as a fellow and after reflecting on education policy in Texas, she decided to focus her attention on an issue which she felt was not being adequately addressed: mental health support for students. Through her advocacy, she was able to secure a full-time intervention specialist on campus at ALA, someone professionally trained to respond to her students’ emotional needs.

For David Jones, teaching was something that happened organically as he shared his love of math with other students at his community college, the College of the Sequoias in California. As an Applied Mathematics student at the college, David came across a few students who were struggling with their trigonometry course, so he offered to tutor them over the summer. Those students went from C students to A students and their families were so grateful for David’s help that they invited him over for dinner to thank him! David not only experienced the joy of helping others as a teacher, but he also realized that teaching actually made him a better mathematician; he was hooked.

David Jones (middle) with two of his mentors: Ross Rueger and Steven Houk

After receiving an Undergraduate Transfer scholarship from the Foundation, David went on to graduate with an Applied Mathematics degree from UC Merced and then completed his M.S. in Applied Mathematics and Statistics at University of California, Santa Cruz. David decided not to go into research as so many of his peers did, but that his true love was teaching. He remembered an offer from the Dean at the College of the Sequoias that if he ever wanted a teaching position, he should come back and talk to them. David was hired and has been teaching at his former community college for the past five years.

David loves teaching students with a variety of backgrounds and life experiences at the College of the Sequoias. He tries to impart the same advice that his former professor, Steven Houk, once told him: don’t make a big deal about small mistakes. When a student gets a problem wrong and they start to lose hope, David encourages them to keep trying and not to give up. He also wants to make sure his students know that attending a community college can provide a great education and can still open just as many doors as a four-year university ­­– it’s not where you start, it’s where you end up that matters.

Janet and David’s commitment to education and the future generation exemplifies Cooke Scholar Alums’ contributions to the world through significant achievements and through regular, everyday actions. To learn more about how Alums are making a difference, visit Compass – the content platform that is home to the inspirational stories of Cooke Scholars and Alums.