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Julie Destine ’21: Finding Her Place in the Classroom
At the beginning of her junior year, Julie Destine ’21 was contemplating her future—and her career. Well aware of the tremendous power that education has to transform lives, Destine was interested in a career in the education field, but she was “shifting away” from teaching. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to be at the front of the classroom,” she explained.
And then came an opportunity that changed her life.
In a meeting with Sam Intrator, a professor in Smith’s Education and Child Study Program, Destine shared her passion for education—and her concerns about becoming a teacher. “I have just the opportunity for you,” Intrator exclaimed.
Intrator encouraged Destine to apply for the Mindich Fellowship, a scholarship that allows Smith students to spend a year exploring the many facets of an educator’s life. Destine applied, was accepted, and in January 2020 spent four weeks teaching at East Side High School, a public high school in Newark, New Jersey.
Working with an algebra class, as well as an English honors class for juniors, Destine came to a whole new understanding of what it meant to be a teacher. “In my classrooms, I saw that teachers have great flexibility around how to teach,” she says. “I saw that Mike Tyson could be paired with ‘The Great Gatsby’! And that was eye opening to me.”
As her teaching internship at East Side neared its end, Destine’s English class was moving into discussions about class and privilege. “I found myself thinking about what books we could use to facilitate those conversations—and realized I was thinking like a teacher,” she laughs.
Destine says the Mindich Fellowship opened her eyes “to everything that goes on in the life of an educator.”
An intensive teacher apprenticeship program designed to introduce liberal arts students from a wide range of disciplines to alums and mentors working in education, the Mindich Fellowship was established with a $1.25 million grant from Propel Capital and a matching gift from the Cecil family through the Jandon Foundation. The fellowship honors the memory of Dan Mindich, a teacher-leader who created and championed programs to inspire and prepare talented liberal arts students to pursue teaching.
Professor Sam Intrator recalls Daniel Mindich as a lifelong educator who researched and wrote widely about the transformative and creative power of teacher collaboration. “Dan believed in teachers,” says Intrator, the Elizabeth A. Woodson 1922 Professor of Education and Child Study. “He believed that teachers serve their students best when they’re able to work, think, create and laugh together.”
Denys Candy, director of the Jandon Center at Smith College, notes that the Mindich Fellowships expand the range of practical experiences for students, while also providing valuable opportunities for networking among students and alumnae.
For Destine, those opportunities came through her teaching internship at East Side, which led to a paid internship last summer with Partnership for Afterschool Education, an organization led by Smith Board of Trustees chair Alison Overseth ’80. That in turn led to a field placement with a Brooklyn-based after-school organization, St. Nick’s Alliance.
At St. Nick’s this past summer, Destine focused not on classroom instruction, but curriculum development. Working remotely due to the pandemic, she used her background in data sciences and psychology to create a STEM curriculum for a social-emotional learning program for elementary school students.
“In the beginning, I felt a little overwhelmed,” she says, “because I’d never created a curriculum before! But my supervisor really encouraged me to just take things one step at a time. And with her support, I was able to develop a curriculum that introduced students to the unfamiliar faces in the field of STEM, who are oftentimes people of color.”
As the ultimate “final project,” Destine’s curriculum is being implemented in the St. Nick’s curriculum this fall. “I’m really proud of that,” she says.
These experiences combined to help crystallize Destine’s thinking about her future. “Curriculum design is cool,” Destine says. “And talking with students outside the classroom is awesome. But there’s something really powerful about being able to do all of those things at once in the classroom, as a teacher. Without the Mindich Fellowship, I wouldn’t have learned that.”
Now, as she completes her senior year at Smith, Destine is looking ahead to graduation—and thinking about applying for teaching jobs in her home state of New Jersey. “And that’s because of the Mindich Fellowship,” she says. “Everyone involved with that program said, ‘I believe you can do it. And if you decide to take that step, we will support you.’ And they did.”