2017 Class of ’54 Alumni Awards

Location: United States

Class of ’54 Commitment to Teaching Fellowship for Alumni Recipients 2017

Amherst is proud of its recent graduates who have chosen to teach in urban and other school systems where students may be considered “at risk” or are socio-economically disadvantaged.  Through the generosity of the Class of 1954, which has established a Commitment to Teaching Fund, Amherst is able each year to award stipends to a limited number of Amherst graduates who have been teaching for ten years or less.


The 2017 awardee biographies are listed below.

View the Program Book Here

Tom Anderson ’10 graduated from Amherst Amherst with a degree in English and a thesis thesis on poetry, and is now in his seventh year  teaching high school special education science science classes in the New York City public school school system. After an especially rough first year teaching in Harlem, Tom went home on his first Thanksgiving break and considered considered not coming back to finish the year. He stuck it out, found an unexpected love in teaching, and now thinks he would have been crazy to have left. His students have achieved steadily increasing passing rates and attendance rates – reaching 80-90 percent on the Living Environment exam – a significant feat for students with disabilities and in the so-called “bottom-third” measured by prior city-wide tests. Tom has found that teaching isn’t just about what happens in the classroom: he co-founded a robotics team, developed websites to host teaching materials, and most recently wrote a series of grants that helped bring in over $500,000 to purchase laptops, and lab equipment for the students at his school. When the first cart of 30 pristine MacBook computers came in to his school, Tom made the case that those computers should be dedicated to the students who need them most: the students in the “self-contained classes” – those whose disabilities are significant enough to preclude them from learning in a general classroom. This year he has been teaching those “self-contained classes” with brand new computers, using lessons that imbed computer literacy, internet research, and interactive technology.

Shanika Audige ‘12 graduated Cum Laude, earning a Bachelor’s in Black Studies and Sociology. It was at Amherst, where she was recruited for Teach For America, that her desire desire to teach took on a purpose and she developed a more critical lens towards the world around her. As such, Shanika decided to go back to her native city, Newark, to make an impact impact in her community. Shanika flourished as a Kindergarten teacher and was soon asked to lead the Kindergarten team of North Star’s first turn-around elementary school, Alexander Street. Last year, she made the great leap from a four year Kindergarten teacher to a first year fourth grade teacher. Currently, Shanika continues to teach as a fourth grade teacher at North Star Alexander Street where she and her colleagues have managed to successfully close the achievement gap for the scholars who transitioned with the turn around. She has been selected by her school to be an instructional fellow for the 2017-2018 where she will train for two years to become a principal of an elementary campus.

Chris Hofmann ’07 graduated from Amherst College with a degree in political science. He also has a Master of Arts in Urban Education from Loyola Marymount University. Chris started his teaching career as an English language assistant in Madrid, Spain. Since 2009, he has been at  KIPP Raíces Academy, a 2015 National Blue Ribbon School, in East Los Angeles, CA, where he has helped found two grade levels, developed curricula, and led school initiatives on family engagement. In 2015, he started the PhotoVoice Project, a school-based group of families and teachers that uses photography to make the school’s educational experience more reflective of the community’s values. He is also an alumnus of the Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship, a teacher leadership group that aims to engage teachers in education policymaking. He has also written about state accountability systems and the new education law for the Huffington Post, LA Schools Report and the National Association of State Boards of Education.

Elias Johansson-Miller ’12 has been a teacher at Alliance Piera Barbaglia Shaheen Health Services Academy High School (or HSA for short because a school could not have a longer name) in South Los Angeles, CA for the past five years. At HSA, Elias has taught Drama to seniors, Film to juniors and sophomores, Honors English to freshman, and Leadership to the student government. He is also the student government advisor. He has served as a school board member and a club advisor; he is the co-leader of RISE, a group that fundraises and organizes an all-expenses paid east coast college trip during the summers for a group of HSA students. While at Amherst, Elias double majored in English and Theater & Dance and was a member of Mr. Gad’s House of Improv. After graduating, Elias joined Teach for America as a 2012 corps member. He received his Masters in Urban Education from Loyola Marymount University.

Courtney Knowlton’04 majored in English and Spanish at Amherst. In 2011 she received an MA in Educational Leadership from NYU. After college, she worked for two years as the Director of High School Placement at CitySquash, an after-school enrichment program in the Bronx, NY, and in 2007, she began working at The East Harlem School, a private school for low-income students.She is the Program Director and a fifth grade Humanities Teacher. In her administrative role, she works on scheduling, hiring, student life, community partnerships, and runs the summer program, where she has managed and mentored more than 200 high school and college students interested in becoming teachers. As a Humanities teacher, her favorite part of the year is taking part in a school-wide poetry unit. When Courtney began working at The East Harlem School, they had just received a grant to start a lacrosse team. Courtney had played for two years at Amherst and became the team’s first coach. She has been coaching for ten years and her girls have been the league champions the past two years. Being a part of a school so focused on creating a peaceful environment that will give students the full set of tools needed to live happy lives has been incredibly inspiring and hopeful work. She lives two blocks from The East Harlem School with her husband and two young sons.

Spencer Russell ’12 graduated from Amherst College with a double major in Music and Psychology. At Amherst, Spencer was was a Resident Counselor, Diversity Intern, Tour Guide, and Hurdler. After graduating, he moved to Houston, TX where he now serves as a first grade teacher and grade-level chair at KIPP Legacy Preparatory School. As a teacher, Spencer has spent a significant amount of time with his students and their families both in school and outside of school at their houses, sporting, and family events. As a result of his commitment to his students and their families, Spencer has received both city and nation-wide recognition for teaching. Spencer also coaches incoming Teach For America Houston Corps Members during the summer. He hopes to increase his impact on the educational landscape in Houston- especially for students of color as both a teacher and a coach.