Students in the University of Tennessee at Martin Call Me MiSTER program learn how to change lives through teaching. The first five UT Martin MiSTERs to complete the program are ready to make a difference in the classroom after being honored April 17 during the 2023 Louis C. Glover UT Martin Call Me MiSTERCelebration held in the Boling University Center’s Duncan Ballroom. The event was named in memory of the late Dr. Louis C. Glover, initial program coordinator for the UT Martin Call Me MiSTER program and a Department of Educational Studies faculty member. The celebration was sponsored by Tosh Farms in Henry County, and the celebration programs were donated by Rawls Funeral Homes.
The Call Me MiSTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models) program was founded at Clemson University in 2000 and strives to increase the pool of available teachers from a more diverse background, particularly among the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools. Student participants are selected largely from among under-served, socio-economically disadvantaged and educationally at-risk communities. The students receive the preparation needed to pursue successful careers in Tennessee elementary and middle schools, possibly even at schools they attended.
The teacher leadership program has grown to include 13 states and provides participants with mentoring support and networking opportunities that benefit them both during and after earning college degrees. UT Martin has the only Call Me MiSTERprogram in Tennessee.
The celebration featured presentations of an official Call Me MiSTER blazer to each graduating senior. The blazer signifies a lifetime connection and commitment to the program’s mission to prepare servant leaders, effective teachers and mentors to future generations. Justyn “Jax” Johnson, a Union City High School graduate and education integrated studies 6-8 social studies major, told the celebration audience that he had few male minority leaders in his life before coming to UT Martin. “But over my four years here, not only have I seen how great of a male minority leader I can be, but I’ve been blessed to be in the graces of some amazing people,” he said.
Following the celebration, Johnson said the connections he made in the program led him to leadership opportunities with the university’s Summer Orientation and Registration staff, working as a Peer Enabling Program leader, and serving as staff member with the UT Martin Young Scholars Academy for underserved youth. His student-teaching experiences showed Johnson the demands of classroom teaching, but even after a long school day, “this one conversation that I might have had with a student” and “being able to see them smile even just for that few minutes” inspires him toward the teaching career that lies just ahead.
Jonathan Utley is a health and human performance K-12 major from Jackson who has achieved a 4.0 college GPA. He described participating in the program as one of the best decisions he has made and, like Johnson, thanked those who supported him. He first learned about Call Me MiSTER when his Madison Academic High School chemistry teacher told him about the program, its resources and strong mentoring component. He knew the opportunity would be a good fit for him.
“We have multiple mentors that we check in with. They provide support wherever we need it,” Utley said. “Any time we need something done, they’re always there to provide a helping hand, whether it be academic, social or if we just need somebody to talk to. They’re always there to help and support us.” As for what inspires him to teach, “I’ve always valued my academic success, and I’ve always loved fitness. … I feel like it was a good fit to go in education and teach physical education.”
Austin Ferrell, program co-coordinator and academic success coordinator, is the oldest of 10 children and sees the new MiSTERs as extensions of his own large family. “I always told them that they’re like my younger brothers. … It’s almost like I got to see them move from their freshman stage all the way to their senior stage and accomplish so many things, …” he said. “They have made some great strides, and they’re trailblazers for our university and our program in general.”
Other students honored during the celebration were Logan Davis, a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies major with a health and human performance K-12 focus from Memphis; Tydarius Blackwell, an education integrated studies 6-8 mathematics major from Jackson; and Lathon Ross, an education integrated studies K-5 elementary education major from Jackson. The five new MiSTERs will receive their bachelor’s degrees during the university’s 2 p.m. commencement ceremony, Saturday, May 6, in the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center.
Dr. Roy Jones, Clemson University’s Call Me MiSTERnational director, traveled from South Carolina to attend the celebration. He told the audience that the program looks beyond the participants becoming third-grade teachers, which is important. “It’s a legacy,” he said to those who earned a blazer. “There is a need for you. This country has a need for you, for educators to make a difference, to raise the standard and raise the vision for this nation. … This nation needs visionaries in ways to show the nation where and how to do it. We need the answers. That’s how we see Call Me MiSTER.”
Among other recognitions was a plaque presented to Samuel Tharpe, of Paris, for his service as the Call Me MiSTER® coordinator of community outreach and advancement. For more information about the program, contact the College of Education, Health, and Behavioral Sciences at 731-881-7125.