Auburn student’s passion for American history, teaching, earns her a James Madison Fellowship

Erica VatellaAUBURN UNIVERSITY – During the July 4 weekend, when most people will be celebrating the holiday without a lot of thought about the history it represents, Erica Marie Vatella will be immersed in the study of American history as she pursues her master’s degree at Auburn University in secondary social science education.

Vatella was recently awarded a James Madison Memorial Foundation Fellowship, which assists teachers earning a master’s degree with a focus on Constitutional studies. Named for James Madison, the nation’s fourth president and the acknowledged “Father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights,” the fellowship is funding up to $24,000 of Vatella’s graduate studies.

The award goes to just one outstanding student in each state and supports the graduate study of American history by aspiring and experienced secondary school teachers of American history, American government and social studies.

“I graduated in May and started right in to graduate school at Auburn,” Vatella said. “I could have gone to different places, but I love Auburn and the faculty in the College of Education. I also have a job starting in August at Auburn High School where I will be teaching American history to 10th and 11th graders so it works well in several ways for me to stay here in Auburn.”

Vatella said she always thought she wanted to be a teacher, but decided to see if anything else felt right. She began her studies at Auburn as a history major, but after one semester, switched to the secondary social science education program.

“By my second semester I was a social science education major. My advisors Dr. (John) Saye and Dr. (Jada) Kohlmeier were there on my first day and have been a big part of my educational experience ever since,” she said. “In fact, it was Dr. Kohlmeier who suggested I apply for the Madison Fellowship. She herself had been a recipient as an undergrad, so I’m really indebted to her for working with me on that.”

Vatella interned at Auburn High School during her senior year at Auburn University.

“They could see how well prepared I was because of my undergraduate experience,” she said. “We have 150 hours of field experience by the time we graduate, plus our 15-week full-time teaching internships, and the professors really push us to work hard and be great teachers. So we are ready to lead and excel in the classroom when we graduate. I got a good evaluation from Auburn High and interviewed for an open position and was hired just like that. I feel really fortunate to be going to such a great school. I’m very excited.”

Previous Auburn students who received the Madison Fellowship are Julie Bryan Payne in 2004 and William Blake Busbin in 2006, both from the secondary social science education program.

“I am excited about a career in teaching, because this is a place I can really make a difference,” Vatella said. “Children are the future. I want to be a positive influence in people’s lives and help them grow up to be productive citizens. What better way to do that than to learn about the history of our country?”

(Contributed by George Littleton.)

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