As they prepare to become educators themselves, members of a Mercer University student organization regularly find ways to support teachers, students and the community.
Mercer Educators in Action (MEIA) was founded nearly 15 years ago by former College of Education Dean Dr. Carl Martay. The organization is open to all Mercer students, but the majority of members are Macon undergraduates majoring or minoring in education, said Dr. Sybil Keesbury, faculty adviser for the organization since 2010 and an associate professor in the College of Education.
“It’s a great opportunity for any student of Mercer, regardless of your experience,” said Mellie Trager, a senior in the holistic child program and president of the organization. “Even if you are not an education major, there are ways for you to get involved and learn more about education and working in the community. It’s a great way to meet people who are interested in those same things and have fun while still making an impact.”
The group — which typically has 40-50 members each year — meets monthly and plans regular fundraisers, programs and initiatives. It also hosts annual fellowship events like Pizza with Professors and a Thanksgiving luncheon for education faculty and students, Dr. Keesbury said.
College of Education alumni who are now teaching in schools sometimes reach out to the group when they need assistance on special projects. Twice a year, members donate items for school supply drives. They want to make sure that students have what they need to be successful in the classroom.
“We’ve done everything from sending textbooks to Liberia to raising money for playgrounds to sending cards for Teacher Appreciation Week,” Dr. Keesbury said. “It’s championing teachers in the community and really providing them support and confidence that we are there to assist them and help them. (Members) get to see the support that teachers need from the community.”
The biggest event that MEIA is involved in is Mercer’s Go Baby Go initiative, which is normally held twice a year but has not taken place amid the pandemic. School of Engineering faculty and students modify electric toy cars for children with limited mobility, and College of Education faculty, students and MEIA members entertain the children and families and provide suggestions for vehicle modifications to fit the children’s needs, Trager said.
Laurel Genova, a senior in the holistic child program, said it’s amazing to see the kids light up when they’re in their new cars and how excited the parents are to know that people care.
In addition, the organization normally invites the fifth-grade class from one of its partner schools to Mercer’s Macon campus for a spring field day. The last time the event was held, Hartley Elementary School students enjoyed a Hawaiian-themed party on Cruz Plaza, which included games and food, Genova said.
“We bring fifth-graders to campus, so they can get excited about college and see what it’s all about,” Dr. Keesbury said. “It’s really helping kids understand what college can be and should be. In Bibb County, we have a lot of kids who don’t even know what college is.”
In February, MEIA members and Mercer mascot Toby gathered outside Springdale Elementary School on the morning that students returned to school after months of remote learning amid the pandemic. With encouraging signs in hand, they waited by the carpool line and welcomed students as they arrived.
“They were returning from doing digital learning during COVID. Everyone was really nervous,” Trager said. “(The event) was just to welcome everyone back and get them excited and back in the groove of things.”
Genova said she loves that MEIA allows her to get to know new people and also bond with children during the activities.
“It’s fun for us because obviously we all like being with kids,” she said. “Since MEIA is freshmen through seniors, it’s really the only time I get to interact with education majors who are younger or older than me. We get to talk about our experiences.”
The organization’s programs and initiatives provide opportunities for members to have new experiences and gain new skills. It’s also a way for those who haven’t done student teaching to interact with schools and get involved in the community, Trager said.
“It’s been a lot of fun and very rewarding to see people become more passionate about education and wanting to be educators,” she said. “I think it’s opened my eyes a lot to who I want to be as an educator.”
Last school year, Trager worked with faculty members to plan and facilitate an online program called “Courageous Conversations” for the group. She was inspired by a workshop that College of Education faculty hosted in July 2020 that provided teachers and administrators with tools, resources and strategies for engaging their students in conversations about racism and social justice. Trager recreated the program, so it was geared more toward future educators who were still developing their teaching practices and philosophies.
“It was about making sure our classrooms are communities where everyone is treated with respect and welcomed. Lots of good information was shared,” she said.