Alumni Spotlight: Aukeem Ballard
February 18, 2013
Portland Tribune: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT
Aukeem Ballard 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.
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 MAT program at Lewis & Clark’s 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 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, and 8th grade social studies. I also help coach the after-school slam poetry group with my former mentor from the graduate program.
What inspired you to pursue a career in teaching?
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—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. But I had a barrage of teachers that challenged me with a singular sentiment, “You can be anything you want, but you have to do the work to get there.” With that encouragement I was able to strive for what my mom called the one thing no one could take away from me—my education. 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 stories of unfortunate and often traumatic situations. 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. I began thinking seriously about Teach for America and education-related fields. After meeting with the Center for Career and Community Engagement 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.
How has your liberal arts education prepared you for life beyond college?
Everything I did from extra- and co-curricular activities to writing thesis drafts at 2 am allowed me to consider how some people in our society have access to quality opportunities and others do 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 at a teacher now 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.
What has surprised you most about life after college?
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 the ideas, concerns, and issues within the field of education.
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.