Darby McGowan

Darby McGowan

Darby McGowan is an elementary education major from Rockford, IL

Hometown: Rockford, IL

Year: Expected graduation: 2025

Major: Elementary Education

What scholarships did you receive and why did you receive them? How has the financial support impacted your experience at NIU?

I received most of the College of Education scholarships from applying to NIU's MyScholarships service, and the need-based grants were issued following my completion of the FAFSA. I applied for the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois during my senior year and had the invaluable opportunity to attend my first in-person Scholar Institute with the program earlier this summer. Filling out conditional applications after the required general application in NIU MyScholarships is a great way to expand scholarship opportunities and communicate a more nuanced and authentic projection of yourself. Filling out the FAFSA can be a very overwhelming process. I would recommend starting early and using your campus resources. Financial support has significantly impacted my ability to attend NIU. There is an added sense of motivation to remain on track for graduation knowing that I will most likely have very little debt to stress over once I enter the professional workforce. 

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you pursuing that as a major, or have you taken another path?
When I was growing up, I always wanted to be a baker or involved in the culinary arts to some extent, but by the beginning of high school, my interest quickly shifted to teaching and the field of education. 

What is your major (and/or minor) and why did you decide on this course of study?
I am majoring in elementary education with an emphasis in reading instruction. In addition to being passionate about working with children, I am growing increasingly interested in social justice and activism within marginalized communities and am committed to being an advocate and ally for all students in my future classroom. I plan to celebrate the rich diversity of my learners, uplift all student identities and develop a trusting dialogue of respect and empathy within the classroom culture. I want students to have a voice in what content they are consuming and how it is being delivered. I love exploring children's literature and cannot wait to cultivate a classroom library that not only contains selections written by diverse authors, but also has stories and characters that are representative of students' cultural backgrounds and nuanced learning experiences. The concept of preferred pronouns and diversity, equity and inclusion in institutions of learning is not something I encountered until late high school and now in college, but I have seen indications that it is now becoming a staple social norm and conversation in K-12 schools. I believe that in the next few years, elementary schools are due for a radical transformation regarding how gender identity and cultural competence are introduced and taught to young students. In a manner that will hopefully parallel the recent shift seen in higher education, students will be accepting of the diverse and complex identities their peers bring to the learning environment, and in turn, students will feel safe to be vulnerable and transparent. Instead of maturing in a manner that permits the development of internalized prejudices and unconscious bias for future resolution, students will be immediately exposed to perspectives and curriculums that denounce systematic racism and homophobia. I want to be there for this reformation. 

What has been something you have found pleasantly surprising about your experience at NIU?
Something I have found pleasantly surprising about my experience at NIU is how devoted the institution is to developing communities of learning in the classroom that are both collaborative and supportive. NIU is committed to upholding the ideals of diversity, equity and inclusion and provides resources to first-generation and minority student groups to make higher education accessible and easier to navigate. Our campus dynamic allows for the exploration and expression of cultural, gender and sexual identities. NIU's variety of cultural resource centers offer students a space of belonging and representation within the larger university collective, and the extensive slate of student organizations present the opportunity for every student to find their niche. Even down to each instructor's syllabus, where the university's policies on preferred pronoun use and contact information for the Disability Resource Center for academic accommodations are consistently included, it is clear that university leaders work diligently to ensure that "NIU" and "home" become one and the same. 

How have you connected with other students to study for classes, meet new people or form new friendships?
I have met most of the students I know through extracurricular organizations on campus, but reaching out to people in classes and maintaining friendships with co-workers from campus jobs are also great ways to stay socially connected to peers and build ties within the Huskie community. 

Are you involved in any student organizations, mentoring programs or extra-curricular activities? If so, which ones? How have they added to your experience as a Huskie?
I am on the coordinator board for Kesem and a mentor for Penguin Players, as well as a member of the Women and Gender Advocacy Alliance, the College Democrats Club and the NIU Honors Program. I really resented the phrase "get involved" freshman year, because when you don't know where to start, it can seem like you're failing in an area where everyone is succeeding. Once I found student organizations where I felt seen and comfortable being myself, my experience at NIU vastly improved. I can't imagine my Huskie experience without them. 

What NIU offices, departments or resources have helped you succeed? And how?
The Academic Advising Center is so helpful for planning courses and ensuring that I'm complying with requirements for my degree. I would love to travel for education in the next few semesters, and the Study Abroad Office was so helpful in discussing possible programs and financial aid opportunities if I decided that was something I wanted to pursue. 

What Honors Program opportunities or support have helped you get closer to your academic or career goals so far?
Honors advising appointments have helped me stay on track with the program's academic requirements and expectations for course progression. My participation last semester in the Honors Civic Engagement Project/Honors Advocacy Initiative for engaged credit prompted me to be of service to my Rockford and DeKalb communities through volunteerism, which introduced me to people who inspire me to continue my journey toward teaching, deepened my understanding of campus resources, and afforded me the opportunity to knock on doors of neighborhood voters for a local Congress campaign—a practice of grassroots political action I hope to continue once reaching professional life. 

What do you enjoy the most about the Honors Program?
My favorite thing about the Honors Program is that its priority is not to simply challenge its students with rigorous courses. With the honors engaged and connect opportunities, the honors experience has been structured so that students develop characteristics of leadership, professional development skills, experience in community building and networking. It's not about being the most academically impressive. The NIU Honors Program is about becoming a lifelong learner who is prepared to interface in a global marketplace following graduation. 

Who has been one of your favorite instructors/professors and why? What course did they teach?
Mr. Nicholas Leonard has been my favorite instructor at NIU. He taught my ARTE 383 (Teaching Art in Elementary Schools) course last semester, and the passion and devotion he brought to each class discussion made my first class within my major unbelievably memorable. He goes beyond the call of duty to ensure his online lectures are as equally engaging and significant as his in-person classes, and I always felt supported when exploring new content areas. He cares so deeply about respecting and cultivating the artistic freedom of elementary school students. Mr. Leonard sets a high bar for the role quality art instruction should play in elementary education. The zeal with which he would approach each lesson as he outlined the impact we as future educators would one day have encouraged me to rise to those expectations. 

How have you benefited by attending class regularly?
I have 100% benefited from attending class regularly. Not only is it easier to receive instant updates about changing deadlines, ask questions and form friendships with classmates, but it's nearly impossible to build a rapport with professors if I were to never attend classes that meet in person. Teachers are more likely to be more involved in your learning and more lenient when conflict arises if they have experience with you as a student and know that you actively care. College is not about passing classes and moving on. I want to be receptive to and take advantage of meaningful and dynamic learning opportunities each time I enter the classroom. 

Where is your favorite spot on campus or in the community? Why are you drawn to it?
My favorite spot on campus is the East Lagoon. It's so scenic and peaceful, making it a great place to read or relax. Unfortunately, I'm very terrified of NIU's massive goose population and campus lagoons also happen to be one of their favorite hangouts. In the community, I love walking to First United Methodist Church to attend their Sunday service, and visiting Robin's Nest Bookshoppe

What advice would you give to a student who is applying to colleges?
Look at a variety of different schools and be flexible in your search. No college search process is perfect. Despite checking every box on your list of criteria, every school will have its flaws. Visit schools that you think could actually be a good fit. Focusing on options that just seem impressive on paper or are high contenders for your friends is ultimately not going to grant you an enjoyable college experience. In high school, take part in activities and community outreach efforts that matter to you. Being genuine in applications is far better than trying to stack applications with involvement that you think schools are looking for. 

Coming to college, what is something that you have had to learn to do differently?
Coming to college, I had to learn how to manage time differently. Between classes, a job and extracurricular activities, it can be a lot to juggle at once. Setting a schedule and not forgetting to prioritize my own mental wellness through self-care is incredibly important. 

What do you do to relax or recharge?
To relax and recharge, I love to read, go on morning runs, take walks, listen to podcasts and music, attend sporting events, visit local businesses, hang out with friends, and watch TV shows and movies. 

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