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Scarborough Resident Receives Woodrow Wilson-Rockefeller Brothers Fellowship

Pamela Otunnu Porensky

University of Southern Maine graduate Pamela Otunnu Porensky of Scarborough has been selected as a recipient of one of the 2012 Woodrow Wilson-Rockefeller Brothers Fund (WW-RBF) Fellowships for Aspiring Teachers of Color.

Porensky is one of 25 fellows chosen nationwide for this prestigious fellowship.  She will receive a $30,000 stipend to complete a master’s degree in education after which she will teach in a high-need public school. The fellowship is intended to provide support throughout a three-year teaching commitment and guidance toward teaching certification.

Porensky graduated from USM this spring with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and concentration in marketing. She will be a student in USM’s Extended Teacher Education Program (ETEP) this fall. “It’s very exciting to pursue a teaching degree. It will help me gain a better understanding of how to reach children and learn what they need, and how to best communicate that to others. There’s a lot to be done.”

Porensky hails from a family of public servants and change agents. Her uncle, Olara A. Otunnu, served the United Nations as special representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict from 1998-2005 and recently ran for president of Uganda, Porensky’s native country, in 2011 under the Uganda People’s Congress. It was at the U.N. Special Session on Children in 2001 that Porensky first developed a passion for working with youth. “I was there for two weeks, interviewing people who worked for the conference, including my uncle and Alfonso Valdivieso, former chair of the Security Council,” she said.  “I was looking at conflict through the world that children face, especially those in war-torn countries and those at a disadvantage point. I learned from them that children are very valuable. Children in countries like the United States shouldn’t take for granted the democratic system in which they live, or the educational opportunities they have. And youth who are fortunate should show solidarity to their peers who are not so fortunate, not only around the world, but also within their community.”

From this, Porensky sought ways to address such issues in Maine. “In the past few years, I’ve heard about the conflict for children from refugee countries, and I empathize with those families and parents,” she said. “Sometimes the parents didn’t attend school, so they themselves don’t know how to encourage their children to succeed. Kids are lost and don’t know which way to take.” Through the encouragement of her family and support of mentors such as William Burney, the first black mayor of Augusta, Maine and former chair of the Augusta Board of Education, Porensky channeled her passion and experience to start the Youth Empowerment Group in Portland, designed to provide outreach to disadvantaged youth of all nationalities through tutoring and mentoring. Run by students throughout the region, the group encouraged children to pave a path for a brighter academic and economic future.

Though the group has since dissolved, Porensky looks forward to new opportunities to serve her community through advocacy and education. She currently works with the NAACP as a volunteer to decrease the achievement gap in local schools. And as a future educator, she can already describe her goals in the classroom. “I would teach my students, but also let them know that they’re very smart and capable of teaching themselves. I’d like older students to mentor younger students, or to buddy up to help students struggling in the classroom. I want it to be a group effort, working to move forward together. I’d let children know that there is someone who cares for them by their side.”

Established in 1992 by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Fellowships for Aspiring Teachers of Color were created to help recruit, support, and retain individuals of color as public education teachers and administrators. In May 2010, USM’s ETEP was designated to be one of 29 campuses nationwide to receive WW-RBF Fellows, and one of 49 nominating institutions. Fellows are selected based on an established commitment to teaching, and to creating opportunities for young people. Since the program's inception, it has awarded nearly $8 million in grants and financial assistance to 400 fellows. To learn more about the foundation or the fellowships, visit the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation website.