Pat McKee and Julie Russo knew they wanted to combine their passions for Wolfpack athletics and the field of education through the creation of a subsidized scholarship. They just weren’t sure what to name it, not until Pat McKee showed his wife an article about how her longtime friend Valerie Faulkner, a professor of teaching at NC State College of Education, was adjusting to instruction in line. In the article, Russo saw a photo of Faulkner sitting under a tent in the rain, all to see his students in person as they left their homework.
“That’s my friend,” Russo said. “That’s what she is.”
McKee and Russo settled on a name: They created the Valerie N. Faulkner Scholarship Fund, which benefits a student-athlete from the College of Education, with a preference for elementary education majors. While Faulkner gives McKee and Russo all the credit for creating the donation, she appreciates that her friend made her face of the scholarship.
“It was a very nice thing for Julie to do,” Faulkner said.
The endowment is already making a difference. Its first recipient is Taylor Rowland ’22, an elementary school senior on the Wolfpack volleyball team, who received a $ 10,000 scholarship. Not only has Rowland been successful on the court, recently named ACC Player of the Week, but she is also making an impact in the classroom, spending several hours a week at AB Combs Elementary School to prepare for her teaching. student next semester. .
“She is a natural leader and can leverage that skill set to inspire young children to strive for success,” said Marcia Davis, who serves as Rowland’s supervisor. “He has the ability to form meaningful relationships, bring the curriculum to life, and encourage his students to learn and grow. She will continue to be a gift to the field of education ”.
For Taylor, who battled multiple injuries to continue her volleyball career, the scholarship is significant recognition of the effort she puts in both on and off the court.
“I really appreciate that you have chosen me and recognize the hard work that I have put into this,” said Rowland. “Being a teacher is definitely what I want to do with my life, and I want everyone involved with the scholarship to be proud.”
Finding ways to support students and teachers has been a constant part of Faulkner and Russo’s friendship since they met more than a decade ago. Russo, then an elementary school teacher, attended a math training program run by Faulkner, who at the time was working for the Wake County Public School System. In that training, Russo discovered his passion for effective math teaching, and Faulkner’s encouragement made all the difference.
“She saw something in me that no one else saw,” Russo said.
Russo would continue to work with Faulkner and create a new way of looking at story problems in math called Equality Structures, which encourages students to see the relationships embedded in math stories. The method was so robust that the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction updated its federally funded Fundamentals of Mathematics training to reflect its work.
“Julie has followed the path and really made a difference in the lives of the children,” Faulkner said. “Anything we can do to help other people be as good as her is a worthy cause.”
Russo found new ways to make a difference when she married NC State alumnus Pat McKee, who is one of the founders of McKee Homes. Since the company’s inception, a portion of every home sold has gone to the Joe McKee Memorial Alzheimer’s Fund, which Russo now oversees in her role as vice president of community care.
“Everybody has something to give back,” Russo said. “It is important for me to do just that, to give my time and talent and donate what I can. And it’s very important to who I am. “
Although she is no longer in the classroom, Russo has remained committed to the field of education and has kept in touch with Faulkner, sometimes lecturing in Faulkner’s classes.
“Both Julie and I are committed to the work of teaching, and we are both committed to supporting teachers where they live,” Faulkner said. “It has been easy to keep up with him because we are passionate about supporting teachers and being valuable to teachers.”
Faulkner and Russo see the scholarship endowment as just that, another way to be of value to teachers.
“It is very difficult to become a teacher because it takes a lot to go to college,” Faulkner said. “I see my college students, many of whom struggle to pay the bills, work two or three jobs. So as long as we can do something to help support young teachers, I totally agree. “
And the athletic component of the donation, stemming from Pat McKee’s love for everything and any Wolfpack sport, also strikes a chord with Faulkner, who played for Duke University’s women’s golf team in the 1980s. Not only did she compete against Page Marsh, who now coaches the North Carolina State University women’s golf team, but she was also part of the first Duke women’s golf team to participate in the NCAA tournament. So, Faulkner understands the joys and challenges that come with being a student athlete.
“I think of Taylor, and she is right now in the classroom, in elementary school, playing a sport, working on her bachelor’s project and, in January, she is essentially going to be a teacher. They are in charge of their class for six to eight weeks, ”Faulkner said. “That is rigorous. It is hard work.”
For Rowland, that hard work pays off because of the difference it can make in the lives of his students.
“I love children,” Rowland said. “I’m with third graders right now, and they are absolutely adorable. They are excited to learn, and they really make it a lot of fun, and they make it exciting to come to school. I believe that all children, no matter who they are, where they come from, deserve the same educational opportunities in school. Just seeing them get excited when they solve a problem well is just a special moment between the student and us as teachers. I know a lot of teachers say that, but the kids really make it all worth it. “
Rowland thanks everyone who made the scholarship possible and helped her pursue her goal of becoming a teacher.
“I just want to give you a big hug,” said Rowland.
Soon, you will have the opportunity to do just that. Faulkner and his wife, Jenn Smith, have made plans to meet McKee and Russo at an NC State volleyball game and watch Rowland play.