Lauren Dougher ’19 MA, a doctoral student in cognition, instruction, and learning technology; Jordane Virgo ’19 (CANHR), a master’s student in school counseling; and Elizabeth Canavan, a master’s student in the Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s Program, have been named the recipients of the Neag School of Education Alumni Board Scholarship for 2021.
The Alumni Board Scholarship provides a $1,000 award annually to students enrolled in a Neag School master’s, doctorate, or sixth-year program with proven academic excellence or demonstrated financial need. The scholarship is intended to invest in the education and experience of Neag School students.
“We were very impressed with the application materials the students shared, as well as their commitment to their education and future careers,” says Neag School Alumni Board President Megan Parrette ’12 6th Year, ’17 ELP. “We are delighted to play a small part in supporting the student’s graduate experience at UConn and look forward to their journeys as they go on to do great things in the world.”
“It is a very fulfilling job to watch students who start out with little confidence in their academic abilities flourish into students who know they can succeed in school.”
— Lauren Dougher,
2021 Alumni Board Scholarship Recipient
Combining Research and Teaching to Help Others
A mentor for UConn student-athletes since 2019, Dougher applies her education knowledge in assisting them with their academics. She works as an extension of the professional UConn staff in mentoring the students one-on-one, ensuring their success by promoting better study habits and time management skills, and providing assistance for their understanding of various course materials.
“It is a very fulfilling job to watch students who start out with little confidence in their academic abilities flourish into students who know they can succeed in school,” Dougher says.
Dougher has also served as a graduate assistant and lead instructor for graduate students in the Neag School since 2018. Since the pandemic hit, she also has assisted with UConn’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, working one on one with faculty to help them with the fast-paced transition to online instruction.
In addition, she is researching first-year students at UConn’s School of Engineering, assessing students’ self-efficacy, creativity, and persistence. This research has led to a co-presented paper at a regional academic conference.
Combining her research and teaching experience, Dougher says she hopes to become an instructional designer where she can “continue helping others and applying all I have learned while furthering my understanding of education.”
Losing her mother this past fall, Dougher was not sure if she was going to be able to continue her studies and is very grateful for the Alumni Board Scholarship support. “With this scholarship, I will be able to take the time I need for myself to grieve and heal without worrying if it will set me back to the point that I cannot afford to stay at UConn,” she says. “I am so grateful to be a recipient of this scholarship and am proud I can continue to embody the values of the Neag School with my current and future endeavors.”
Finding His Purpose of Helping Others
Virgo is among numerous recent graduates across the U.S. who have faced challenges finding employment. After graduating from UConn in 2019 with a degree in nutritional sciences, he could not find a job – a dilemma worsened by the pandemic.
“After six months, I was finally hired as a deli worker at Big Y. It was a humbling experience to go from lab work and research papers to slicing meats and cheeses,” Virgo shared in his scholarship application.
He had enjoyed the nutritional science courses as an undergraduate student, but the science end started “to look like a new language.” Virgo decided to change his academic path and fulfill his initial dreams of helping those in need while also enjoying the coursework.
After deciding to pursue a master’s degree in counseling, Virgo sought work as a substitute teacher as well as a job coach for individuals with disabilities to help cover the cost of graduate school. In the latter role, he teaches high school students with autism how to transition from their special education program to the workforce, promoting job coaching, career counseling, and self-efficacy.
His connection to helping students stems from his time as an undergrad at UConn. In a mentorship role with UConn Connects, he assisted students who needed academic and social support by counseling them on success strategies. He also gained hands-on experience with students as a resident assistant.
As an undergrad, Virgo also was a student leader across campus. In addition to mentoring and being a resident assistant, he engaged in service learning with a childcare facility in Hartford, Connecticut, served as a UConn ambassador on the Avery Point campus, and worked with the Office of First-Year Programs. And while serving as a student mentor at ScHOLA2RS House, a Learning Community designed to support male students’ scholastic efforts who identify as African American/Black, Virgo connected with a mentor of his own who helped him discover his purpose.
“As a black man who never had black professionals in my schools, I plan to be that resource for marginalized, at-risk, and low-income students,” he says. “My mentor always says, ‘Pursuing purpose.’ This is my purpose.”
“As a black man who never had black professionals in my schools, I plan to be that resource for marginalized, at-risk, and low-income students.”
— Jordane Virgo,
2021 Alumni Board Scholarship Recipient
“When I got this scholarship, the feeling of being chosen for something is euphoric (after getting turned down for other scholarships). My confidence has gone up, and my drive has gone up,” he says. “I feel like an NFL prospect who is passed up by team after team and finally gets picked, then all the teams that passed up on him have to watch him absolutely work harder than anyone else, give maximum effort day in and day out, and just wish they had taken a closer look before passing up.”
“I feel recognized and I’m excited to show everyone just what a great stock they just invested in,” he adds.
Using a Love of Math to Combat Math’s Negative Stigma
Growing up, Canavan endured childhood trauma due to her father’s frequent mental hospital admissions. “Everything plummeted after he was in a tragic car accident with my younger sister,” she shared in her scholarship essay. “This was traumatic for everyone … and this started a downward spiral for my family.”
Canavan’s sister’s recovery was happening amid her father’s deteriorating mental state, leading to his incarceration and her parents’ divorce. This experience left her entire family emotionally drained and financially challenged.
Canavan says she chose to focus her energy on her “academics and activities,” including her college applications and mental health. During this time, she says she became close with some of her teachers and “witnessed firsthand how educators can impact students’ lives.”
“I realized that I wanted to be that person for my future students,” she wrote.
At the same time, she “witnessed and reflected” how some of her peers had been “turned off to math” at an early age and thought “they were inferior” to the subject. She observed how none of her secondary math teachers attempted to “combat this negative math stigma” that impacted so many of her peers.
“I am extremely grateful for these scholarships because they are giving me the opportunity and the honor to further my education here at UConn.”
— Elizabeth Canavan,
2021 Alumni Board Scholarship Recipient
Her confidence in and enjoyment of mathematics, while seeing the lack of encouragement from her teachers, led her to want to be a math educator.
Through her clinical practicum at E.O. Smith High School and Sage Park Middle School, Canavan has observed algebra and geometry classes, collaborated with the instructor, and assisted in student learning. As a student teacher at Hall Memorial School, she also planned and implemented mathematics lessons for on-campus and remote learners.
“I am extremely grateful for these scholarships because they are giving me the opportunity and the honor to further my education here at UConn,” says Canavan. “Because of these gracious gifts, I am able to pursue my career in math education and hope to influence others in the future.”
Alumni Board Scholarship recipients Lauren Dougher, Jordane Virgo, and Elizabeth Canavan will be formally recognized at the 2021 Neag School Alumni Awards Celebration, taking place virtually in March. Register online for the event at s.uconn.edu/NeagAlumni2021. For more information on supporting students like these, visit s.uconn.edu/neaggiving.