Teach For America gives ASU grad direction, purpose

Sheilah Utley gets real-world experience while working toward degree in secondary education


Teacher standing next to a student in a classroom.

Sheilah Utley is teaching seventh grade English at Papago School in Phoenix as a Teach For America corps member while she works toward a master’s degree in secondary education at ASU. Photo by Jr De Chavez

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Teaching was not the initial plan for Sheilah Utley coming out of college. Her background is in acting, having obtained her bachelor’s degree in theater from ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts in 2022. But a part-time gig at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix during the spring of 2023 changed all that.

“I taught a bunch of 4-year-olds how to forage, and I just really fell in love with that work,” Utley said. “I learned that I like seeing children’s fascination on their face with the topic, and I really, really enjoy it when I get to teach something I love, and I get to see that in other students.”

Despite the support of her grandmother and namesake, Sheila Utley, who taught in elementary schools across the Valley for decades, Utley wasn’t sure how to pursue her newfound passion without a background in education.

Enter Teach For America.

Teach For America (TFA) is a nonprofit organization that recruits and employs individuals who are interested in teaching and provides them with the necessary training and experience to become effective and competent instructors — many, like Utley, for the first time. And specific to the Phoenix metro area, TFA recruits are able to work toward a master’s degree in secondary education through Arizona State University while fulfilling their teaching contract.

Since August of 2023, Utley has been teaching seventh grade English at Papago School in Phoenix as a TFA corps member.

“My experience with TFA has been really positive,” Utley said. “All of my coaches and the people who helped place me at Papago have been super helpful. … So even though I don’t have that educational background, I never feel like I’m being left alone.”

Video courtesy Educational Outreach and Student Services

Utley also serves as Papago School’s girls’ basketball coach, co-ed volleyball coach, co-ed flag football coach and will soon serve as director of a newly established theater program.

“(Sheilah) truly is incredible,” said Krishnaa Pradhan, director of recruitment for Teach For America at ASU.

Pradhan says that the opportunities TFA offers are beneficial to everyone, regardless of their major or career interests.

"Teach For America creates pathways for leadership in every career sector, with community and university partnerships and a national alumni network,” Pradhan said. “We wholeheartedly invite ASU faculty and staff to join us in identifying outstanding graduating seniors from any and all majors who possess the qualities that align with Teach For America's mission. We encourage you to actively nominate and support these exceptional individuals as they embark on their journey to create transformative change beginning with education.”

The deadline to apply for Teach For America's 2024 corps is March 15. Utley encourages even those who may be on the fence to consider applying.

“At least apply, at least get it out there,” she said. “Because then at least … you can say you did it, and you get to work with some pretty awesome kids.”

To learn more, visit the Teach For America website or contact Krishnaa Pradhan.

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