Q: Welcome! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your time at Alma College?
A: I’m happy to be doing this! My name is Vernonell Smith Jr. and I graduated with the Class of 2022 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in education. While I was at Alma, I played on the football and track teams. Go Scots!
Q: How did you come to choose your path in education?
A: I’m originally from Muskegon, Mich., where I decided I would become a teacher someday. I had male teachers in high school — they were my role models and I looked up to them. They taught me a lot of ways about how to be a positive, productive man for students to look up to. I decided I wanted to do that for others.
Q: Tell me about your background in athletics. What was it like to play for the Scots?
A: After high school, I attended a public university in Michigan, mostly in order to play football. After two years, I decided to transfer — I wanted to go to college somewhere closer to home — and found Jason Couch to be my ideal head coach. He was true with me from day one and encouraged me to be a vocal leader, which helped me not only on the field but also in the classroom. He would ask me, “How are our underclassmen supposed to learn from you if you don’t tell them what’s on your mind?” Playing for the Scots was one of the highlights of my life.
Q: What was it like to transfer to Alma?
A: Coach Couch was actually not my first contact at Alma — it was the people in the education department. They told me what classes are like and it was the first selling point for me. Only later on in the process did I get acquainted with the football team. The transfer process was smooth. I had admissions counselors who helped me to make sure I wouldn’t lose any credits and the faculty in the education department got me right up to speed in a hurry. Transferring to Alma was the best decision I could have made.
Q: What makes Alma’s education department stand out to you?
A: One of the cool things about the education department is that you’re exposed to special education instruction, which I’ve found is pretty rare for someone like me, who is not a special education teacher. It’s really beneficial! You learn a lot about individualized education programs (IEPs), the law, and other things that have helped me in my career.
Beyond that, you get a lot of 1:1 time with your instructors. That’s something you hear a lot about at Alma, but I think it’s especially helpful for education majors. Faculty members like Kathy Paul and Karla Cartrite are currently helping me pass my teacher certification test, and I will be forever grateful for their mentorship.
Q: What have you been doing since graduation?
A: Actually, Kathy Paul introduced me to the people at Ithaca Public Schools, and I ended up getting a job there, as a sixth-grade teacher at North Elementary School. I’m in a great place for me, with a principal who is one of the most supportive people I have ever met. The kids are great, too. I feel like, thanks to my education at Alma, I’m able to not only teach them what they need to know, but to mentor them as well. I really appreciate that.
Q: I understand you recently received an honor. Congratulations! Could you tell us about that?
A: The TV station WZZM, out of Grand Rapids, came to my school and gave me an award for “Teacher of the Week.” It was shocking and so very much appreciated. There are times when I wonder, “Has God put me in the right place? Am I doing the right things and getting through to the students?” That was one of those times that was very affirming.