2020 "Pass the Torch" Scholarship Finalists


Now in its third year, the Teachers Test Prep "Pass the Torch" Teacher Scholarships program received nearly 250 entries in 2020. We again awarded $10,000 in scholarships: one $5,000 scholarship to an aspiring elementary school teacher and one $5,000 scholarship to an aspiring secondary school teacher. 

Entrants were asked to record a short video telling us about a teacher who inspired them and what they learned from that teacher that they would like to pass on to the students they will teach.

From the many excellent submissions received from around the country, five finalists were chosen for each category. All received a $100 Amazon gift card and one year of free access to any of our Core Plus Online Prep Programs to help them pass the credentialing exams required by their state, such as the Praxis, CSET or FTCE.

The finalists brought their stories to life in a range of ways, including handmade objects, whimsical toys, heartfelt poems and letters, and even geology diagrams. Some stories were warm and uplifting, others reflective and thoughtful. However, they all made us see the world from a slightly different perspective and convinced us that the entrant would one day be an inspiring teacher.


Karen Mungkay Shum

Karen Mungkay Shum (University of Southern California, CA)

Teacher: Miss Tuti Lee

“She became a confidante, someone I could tell my story to, someone who listened and respected me for all that I am, including my not-so-good grades - but that’s only a part of me.”

As a 9th grader, Karen Mungkay Shum felt lost when she transferred to a Chinese-speaking school in Hong Kong. Forced to repeat a grade and struggling academically, she was ready to resign herself to the role of "bad student" when she met Miss Lee. Now an aspiring special education teacher, Karen hopes to view her own students through the same lens with which Miss Lee viewed her: first seeing the person, then seeing the grades.

Click here to watch Karen's story about Miss Lee.


Samantha Kate Eason photo

Sammie Kate Eason (Lee University, TN)

Teacher: Mrs. Melissa Word

“Our teacher was brave enough to soar through the sky. I remember thinking to myself that if she was that bold and courageous in her life outside of the classroom, maybe she could teach me to be that way too.”

In this vivid recollection of the excitement of second grade, Sammie Kate Eason pays homage to her teacher, Mrs. Melissa Word. Mrs. Word’s classroom was one where every student felt capable and valued – a class of “whiz kids” whose achievements were celebrated in a special anthology called “Proud to Be Me.” Today, Sammie Kate hopes to become a teacher who can touch the hearts and minds of her students, just like Mrs. Word.

Click here to watch Sammie Kate's story about Mrs. Word.

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Jania Hutchinson (Radford University, VA)

Teacher: Ms. Eddy Janney

“I had forgotten that as a teacher it’s not just my job to teach them information, it’s my job to get to know them as people and as individuals. I had forgotten to apply what I had learned as a student to my job as a teacher.”

Caring about your students as individuals and also being compassionate to yourself: these were the things Ms. Janney taught Jania Hutchinson in the Teachers for Tomorrow program. Here, Jania looks back on an early student-teaching experience where Ms. Janney’s mentorship helped her balance her own high expectations with the understanding that no lesson will ever be perfect, and we can always reflect and improve.

Click here to watch Jania's story about Ms. Janney.

Caitlin Leavitt photo

Caitlin Leavitt (Brigham Young University, UT)

Teacher: Ms. Gayle Painter

“These things probably seem really small, but something I’ve learned while preparing to be a teacher is it’s these small things that oftentimes matter the most.”

From the moment she saw the curly hair just like her own, young Caitlin Leavitt loved Ms. Painter. Kindness was evident in everything Ms. Painter did, from her firm but compassionate handling of bullying to the empathetic way she helped Caitlin manage her talkativeness. Today, as both a prospective teacher and a new mother, Caitlin aspires to gently change the world through simple, everyday acts of kindness.

Click here to watch Caitlin's story about Ms. Painter.

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Jodelle Wong (University of Redlands, CA)

Teacher: Mr. Charlie Ciali

“I learned … the discipline of working hard during an art piece even if it didn’t turn out how I planned. It’s not caring about the mistakes you made but enjoying the lessons being taught in the process.”

Jodelle Wong learned three important things in Mr. Ciali’s print-making class: a respect for generosity, the liberation of asking for help and the beauty of perseverance. Having burgeoned as both an artist and an individual under Mr. Ciali’s guidance, Jodelle now aims to share the valuable life-lessons she learned in his studio with her own students.

Click here to watch Jodelle's story about Mr. Ciali.


Jason Mizerek photo

Jason Mizerek (Point Loma Nazarene University, CA)

Teacher: Mr. Van Bergen (VB)

“He was able to put things into context like I’ve never seen before and I really haven’t seen since. He was able to make that information relevant to us.”

Mr. Van Bergen was passionate about connection. A charismatic man with a booming voice, he connected emotionally with his subject, becoming visibly moved by stories from history. He helped his students connect events from their lives with things that had happened in the past. Most importantly, he connected with his students, inspiring quiet middle-grader, Jason Mizerek, to discover his own potential as an educator.

Click here to watch Jason's story about Mr. Van Bergen.


Diana Fitts photo

Diana Fitts (Western Governors University, UT)

Teacher: Mr. Darrell Steely

“I learned that I could rewrite my story, I didn’t have to live with a story where a sentence of it said, ‘You will always be bad at science, you will always be bad at anything that’s not English or reading or writing.’”

Diana Fitts had never thought of herself as a science person and only took biology to fit in with her peers. In Mr. Steely’s classroom, however, she came to realize that not only could she succeed at science, but she enjoyed it. Today, Diana wants to become a science teacher so she can help other students overcome limiting beliefs about themselves and their abilities.

Click here to watch Diana's story about Mr. Steely.

Stephanie Levine photo

Stephanie Levine (University of Southern California, CA)

Teacher: Dr. Sarah Titus

“I learned more by being forced to think for myself … If I forgot something, then I was able to figure it out again, making that knowledge information that I’ll keep with me for a lifetime.”

While Stephanie Levine had always been an outstanding student, it wasn’t until she reached college that she first learned to think critically. Geology Professor Dr. Sarah Titus challenged her students to take the information they learned in class and apply it to different scenarios – using their own brains, rather than relying on rote memorization of facts. Stephanie hopes to empower her future students with this same ability to truly think for themselves, giving them skills which will serve them in every aspect of their lives.

Click here to watch Stephanie's story about Dr. Titus.

Theresa Schulte photo

Theresa Schulte (Liberty University, VA)

Teacher: Ms. Oshiana Thomas

“The special education teacher was working on a puzzle with one of the students and they were peaceful and they were both smiling and I looked at her compassion and I realized I was old enough to be her mother. If she can do that, why can’t I?”

Theresa Schulte was a 49-year-old single mother of three when she started her first day teaching in a special education classroom for children with autism. By lunchtime she was in tears and ready to give up. Then she met Oshiana Thomas, a teacher more than 20 years her junior, who demonstrated to her the importance of compassion, no matter how challenging the behavior.

Click here to watch Theresa's story about Ms. Thomas.

James Weiner photo

James Weiner (Colorado State University, CO)

Teacher: Mr. Kirk Upton

“Kirk explained to us that during the Revolutionary War, kids our age were marching into gunfire … for the chance of creating a country of their own, and we were willing to give that up for a good grade one day in class.”

From the moment he challenged his class to swear allegiance to the pirate flag or receive a zero, history teacher Kirk Upton had a transformative impact on the way James Weiner saw the world. Rather than simply being names and dates, history became the stories of real people – people with their own fears and dreams, triumphs and failures. Today James Weiner wants to carry on his teacher’s legacy by imbuing his own students with a deeper understanding of the lives of others.

Click here to watch James' story about Mr. Upton.


Want to learn more about our 2020 "Pass the Torch" Scholarship recipients?

Read a short interview with Karen Mungkay Shum and Jason Mizerek.


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