St. Thomas’ School of Education is constantly working to help increase the number of teachers of color in the classroom through various partnerships, including state-funded teaching preparation programs. One, the Collaborative Urban and Greater Minnesota Educators of Color (CUGMEC) scholarship program, is a private/public partnership designed to recruit, support and retain teachers of color and Indigenous teachers.
The CUGMEC, formerly known as the CUE grant, has been in existence at St. Thomas for 30 years and has supported more than 500 participants in becoming licensed teachers.
“Recent studies say that African American students who had at least one African American teacher by third grade were 13% more likely to enroll in college – and those who’d had two were 32% more likely,” said School of Education Dean Kathlene Holmes Campbell. “We believe that representation matters and children from all backgrounds benefit from having diverse teachers. This is why we’re committed to helping diversify the teaching profession.”
Martin Odima Jr. is a past recipient of the CUGMEC scholarship. A former paraprofessional, Odima ‘13 MA earned his academic and behavioral strategist license and master’s degree in education at St. Thomas through the CUGMEC program.
As an African American male, Odima said there aren’t many people who look like him at the elementary school where he used to teach. “When students of color see me, there’s a trust and I can build a relationship with them,” Odima said. “There are students who have been challenging in the past who feel they don’t have someone they can trust. I can advocate for them, can speak for them to be in the classroom.”
Odima was drawn to the CUGMEC for many reasons, especially the scholarship funding. He bonded with professors and fellow students, many of whom were also paraprofessionals looking to advance their careers.
“Teachers don’t last long in the profession, especially special education teachers. The average is three to five years. ... The fact I have that strong network with St. Thomas professors and people in the program has given me so many opportunities,” said Odima, who recently co-authored a book chapter with St. Thomas faculty on thriving in education. He is also an adjunct professor at St. Thomas teaching one of the courses he took in graduate school.
Odima enjoys providing children with the tools to help them feel successful, build confidence and overcome challenges. A marathon runner, he shares his experiences with students, hoping to inspire them to channel their energy into something they can be proud of.
“If we really want to advance and build success for our students in Minnesota, academically, socially and emotionally, we need to have programs like this [CUGMEC] program,” said Odima, who is also a mentor teacher for Saint Paul Public Schools Urban Teacher Residency Program (SUTR). “Not only does it develop strong teachers, it develops teachers who care, who want to stay in the program, are teachers from different backgrounds and teachers of color. The impact of it makes schools better. I see it. I have the confidence I’m making a big difference every single year. The people that have gone through the program … I’m seeing them go on and being successful. I’m seeing that impact.”
St. Thomas commercial
School of Education alumnus Martin Odima appears in a production of the University of St. Thomas “We Are Tommies” television commercial.
To view all six of the 30-second TV spots featuring St. Thomas alumni or current students, visit: stthomas.edu/we-are-tommies/