Cain Foregoing Final Year To Work At Teach For America

April 27, 2010

By Jerome Johnson
UW Athletic Communications Staff

Junior gymnast Karen Cain is taking her competition elsewhere as it moves off the beam into the working world and classroom.

Cain has used her sport as a gateway to bigger and better things that will help create more opportunities in the future, foregoing her last year of eligibility to take on new life challenges. Cain is one of the select few to be accepted for a position in the prestigious program, Teach for America.

Teach for America is nonprofit organization which places an emphasis on education equality, thus giving lower income individuals an opportunity to receive a similar education opportunity as those in higher classes. After being selected, the program places the student teacher in an inner city location, where the quality of education is scarce, for a two-year period.

'In the case of where I am going, Rio Grande Valley [Texas], most of my students haven't been speaking English very long because they are Mexican immigrants,' says Cain.

Upon completion of the program, the teacher will receive a Mari core education grant for $10,000 to a grad school, law school, med school or another higher education program.

'Their goal is to put quality teachers into low income school districts where traditionally teachers would want to avoid because the students have behavior issues or are far behind on their test scores,' Cain explained.

As a freshman, Cain's curiosity led her to attend an informative seminar about TFA. Ever since then, her goal was to apply, however the process was long and strenuous.

'The application process included an online application, a phone interview and a day-long final interview. I started the application process in mid-January and heard of my acceptance into the program in mid-March,' said Cain.

With not much time for preparation, she will be more reliant on her family to help with the transition since they are close.

After graduating early and wrapping up three years of collegiate competition, she is ready to accept new challenges, especially ones that will create opportunities for success in the future. Teach for America is a prominent and selective program that is hard to turn down once acceptance has been gained. According to TFA statistics, in 2009, only 11 percent (4,100) of the 35,000 applicants were accepted into the program.

'I can't imagine getting accepted and not taking the opportunity. I think it's such an amazing program and I like their goal and their mission and the people who are involved with it. With the education grant, a lot of doors will open up for me through connections and alumni of TFA,' Cain said.

In order to be ready for this program, she must take final exams early to graduate so she can be in Texas by June 6th to attend a summer institute that emphasizes on skills she will need as a teacher. Her degree will not be confirmed until June 13th.

Being one of the older statesmen on the gymnastics team, she polished skills that will help her succeed in the TFA program. On a team with no seniors, Cain and other juniors were forced to take a leadership initiative for the underclassmen.

'Even though we are only juniors, all of us have competed a lot in the three years we have been here,' said Cain. 'I think it was easy for us to step into a leadership role on the team. The four of us juniors really worked together in leading the team. All of us have our own strengths and things we were best at in motivating out teammates.'

Motivation will become very important in the learning process for these underprivileged children, most of which have had trouble learning due to the lack of resources.

Cain will be graduating from Washington with a degree in Political Science which will be used to teach fourth-through-eighth grade science in Texas. When signing up, teachers must express which courses they feel comfortable teaching.

There were bigger goals on the horizon, but the memories from gymnastics will never be forgotten.

'When we enter college, we know as gymnasts that this is an amazing opportunity we have to work our way through school with the goal being us getting a career,' said Cain. 'I think having this opportunity to have my career and get started on it is really the point of going to college when you're a gymnast.'

Despite having a year of eligibility left, Cain plans to close the chapter on gymnastics and focus on her career. She wants to use the grant to work towards a master's degree and hopes to one day join or create her own nonprofit organization helping less fortunate individuals. With the experience and gained from TFA, the future will be bright and create a pathway for endless opportunities.

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