Olivia Njoh-Mbengue is a recipient of this year’s Susan Blum Teaching Excellence Award, which is an award given to a Teaching Fellow who demonstrates a wholehearted commitment to and love of teaching. She is a junior at Tulane University who is double majoring in psychology and communications with a minor in public health. As a Teaching Fellow, Olivia taught 9th grade environmental science.

An Authentic Teacher

During her five-week fellowship, Olivia discovered that even though there are best teaching practices, her lessons were most effective when she adapted them to meet the needs of her particular class. She gathered input from Daniella, another environmental science Teaching Fellow, and from her students directly about the ways they wanted to learn.

This type of open communication allowed Olivia to connect with her students and provide them with a productive learning environment. “Teenage kids are some of the hardest people to connect with, but once you crack them, they’re the most sweet, loving, funny people ever,” she says.

Olivia’s ability to relate to students reached beyond the bounds of her classroom. At the end of the program, one student expressed how much he appreciated her making him feel welcome—despite not being one of her students. “We would have little conversations in the hallway. It was really nice to see that being my authentic self was also reaching students I didn’t teach,” Olivia recalls.

Growing Confidence

Olivia admits that she was initially hesitant to apply to the fellowship because she had never led a classroom before. Ultimately, she is glad that she took advantage of the opportunity to grow her skills and confidence. “Anyone who’s considering becoming a Teaching Fellow—just apply,” she advises. “You will learn so much about yourself, and you will surprise yourself by how much you can actually do.”

Looking ahead, Olivia is considering earning a PhD in adolescent psychology to become a therapist for young people. In the fall, she is preparing to study abroad in Scotland at St. Andrews University. Wherever her path leads her, Olivia knows she will have the confidence to tackle anything.

“I now feel I can go into job interviews, and I am ten times more confident than I ever have been before,” she says. “You have to trust yourself first. Breakthrough really instills this idea of ‘Just go for it.’”

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