ASU, Teach For America partnership develops school leaders

Ilalia Coburn

Five outstanding PreK-12 educators in metropolitan Phoenix have been selected as recipients of the Arizona State University and Teach For America Alumni Education Leadership Fellowship. All five are alumni of Teach For America. The fellowship, fully funded by ASU, will enable them to begin work in 2012 toward an advanced degree in educational leadership through ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

“ASU and Teach For America share a commitment to building a leadership force for positive change in our educational system,” said Cassie Hilpman Breecher, Teach For America’s director of alumni affairs in Phoenix. “This fellowship program is helping us meet our mutual goal of training exceptional educators to take on transformational leadership roles in Arizona schools. The selection committee is composed of ASU faculty members and community leaders. The committee looks for individuals who have demonstrated leadership potential and are specifically interested in making a difference by becoming leaders at the school or district level in Arizona.”

This is the fifth year for the Education Leadership Fellowship program, which covers tuition costs for up to 36 hours of graduate study in a Teachers College advanced degree program resulting in administrative credential in Arizona. The latest group of recipients chosen through a competitive selection process includes Peter Bartanen, Ilalia Coburn, Shannon Green, Matt Lersch and Tara Southard.

Coburn, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Pepperdine University, was inspired to apply to Teach For America by a visit to the classroom of a friend who joined the program and taught in New York City. Coburn was placed at Challenger School in the Glendale Elementary School District during her experience as a Teach For America corps member, which she completed in 2006. She continues to teach at Challenger, currently as a sixth-grade teacher.

“I take the responsibility of teaching seriously, and I believe you get out of it what you put into it,” Coburn said. “There is great joy seeing your students succeed and reach their individual academic goals, but what I find the most rewarding is when students make school a priority in their daily lives and are invested and motivated into furthering their own education. That is an attitude that will extend beyond the year in my classroom and will carry students to achieve their dreams.”

Coburn has demonstrated leadership potential through the large and varied number of activities in which she has participated at Challenger School, including serving as a peer observer, school site council committee member, and video news team sponsor. She says her goal is to move into a position that enables her to make an impact on a school-wide level, which the Education Leadership Fellowship will help her accomplish.

“I look forward to being part of a school team of leaders that is committed to pushing all students forward and providing them with an excellent education. The bottom line is that education should center around students and what they need to learn, and I want to be a school leader who lives and breathes the bottom line,” Coburn said.

“Ilalia is a wonderful example of the type of person who deserves support in achieving her leadership goals through an Education Leadership Fellowship,” said Andrea Stouder Pursley, executive director of ASU’s Sanford Education Project. “She has a proven track record of success as an educator and an unwavering dedication to children, their families and the community. Arizona will reap long-term benefits from an investment in her leadership.”

ASU was recently named a national online partner for Teach For America alumni. Along with the five new Fellows who will begin work on an advanced degree through Teachers College in 2012, Teach For America alumni from around the United States will be encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity to earn a M.Ed. degree in educational administration and supervision through ASU’s online program.

Sara Egli earned her master’s in educational administration and supervision through the Education Leadership Fellowship; she completed the in-person program at ASU’s West campus in 2010. Egli became a Teach For America corps member in 2005, placed at Maurice C. Cash Elementary School in the Laveen Elementary School District, where she still works today. After taking on increasing levels of leadership, Egli became assistant principal at M.C. Cash.

“In earning my master’s degree, I worked with a cohort of people doing great things in education, and I learned so much from our shared experiences,” said Egli, who has been selected as a Rodel Aspiring Principal through the mentorship program established by the Rodel Foundation of Arizona. “The excellent ASU professors who instructed our cohort shared great knowledge and experience that I still draw from today.”

Egli says she was inspired to become a school administrator by her principal at M.C. Cash, Lisa Sandomir. “I never thought I could leave a classroom where I was directly impacting thirty students on a daily basis, until Lisa taught me that principals can directly impact 30 or more teachers who in turn directly impact more than 700 students each day,” she said.

Success stories like Egli’s have caused interest in the Education Leadership Fellowship program to grow consistently during its five-year existence. Fellowship applications from interested educators have increased each year.

In addition to the master’s program that Egli completed, the newly selected Fellows may choose to apply for admission to one of two other Teachers College degrees – an Ed.D. degree in leadership and innovation, and the iLead master’s program that places students in a leadership internship within their school district as they complete coursework.

These degree programs are among numerous undergraduate and graduate programs offered by Teachers College, which is active on all four Valley campuses of ASU and around the state. The college offers challenging education programs that prepare highly qualified and successful teachers, leaders and researchers. More information about Teachers College is available at

Teach For America is the national corps of outstanding recent college graduates who commit to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools and become lifelong leaders in expanding educational opportunity. Today, more than 9,000 corps members are teaching in 43 regions across the country while nearly 24,000 Teach For America alumni continue working from inside and outside the field of education for the fundamental changes necessary to ensure educational excellence and equity. For more information, visit