LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 26, 2022) — Beneath a shower of fireworks punctuating the usual pomp and circumstance of a University of Kentucky commencement ceremony, Xavier Douglas, college student, became Mr. Douglas, social studies teacher and change-maker.
It’s a transformation that began in middle school, when for the first time in one year, he had two teachers who looked like him, a Black male. Their names are imprinted in his memory.
“Mr. Tichenor and Mr. Johnson. Seeing how they impacted students and seeing success on an everyday basis in someone who looked like me was profound,” Douglas said.
He reflected on his journey a few days before May 2022 graduation, as he finished his last task as a student — finalizing paperwork in the Teacher Certification Office in the College of Education.
“I’m excited,” he shared, joy spreading across his face in a grin. “My biggest goal as a teacher is to not only change lives but to impact lives so that they can be empowered to make change for themselves.”
That is what Douglas’ teachers did for him. Raised by a single, strong mother, who had a long career in the Navy, Douglas was deeply impacted by the influence of teachers who made learning come alive and showed him that teaching is about more than subject matter.
It was a lesson that echoed years later in his Master’s with Initial Certification (MIC) program in the UK College of Education. On the last day of class, instructor Mary Ann Vimont handed her students a marble.
“She said, ‘You’re one marble, but there are endless ripples you can make,’” Douglas said. “That really stayed with me. It said to me that it’s not about just gaining a career, but impacting the world around you.”
Douglas, from Lexington, had a deep appreciation for the University of Kentucky — not only as a fan of UK sports and member of the Big Blue Nation, but because of the academic opportunities offered by the university.
“I have that Kentucky pride,” Douglas said. “I’m excited to be able to share that with my students, to be able to say, ‘You can go down the street and any job you want to do, you can learn to do it at the University of Kentucky.’ UK has given me a great, diverse curriculum and the opportunity to experience high-level classes that enable us to think more broadly about the world. That has been very beneficial for me at UK.”
Douglas began college as a business major, but quickly realized his heart wasn’t in it. “I kept thinking about how I can make an impact on the world, and the teachers I had, and the more I thought about it, the more I knew that’s what I needed to do.”
After much thought and prayer, Douglas changed his major to secondary social studies education, preparing to teach middle and high school students. The program involves four years of undergraduate study plus one calendar year (summer, fall and spring semesters) of graduate study in the MIC program. Upon completing the program, students earn a master’s degree and are eligible to apply for initial teaching certification.
“It was in the MIC program that I really fell in love with teaching,” Douglas said. “The program really prepares you to be a teacher, not only through student teaching but through the opportunity to partner and network with alumni, reinforcing what we’re learning in class. The professors are very passionate about what they’re teaching. You can tell they’re here to teach fundamentals and prepare strong teachers for the classroom.”
The MIC Social Studies program includes close mentorship with what professor and social studies co-chair Kathy Swan calls “layers of community-based, teacher-building education.”
In addition to a number of College of Education faculty members, including social studies co-chair Ryan Crowley, Douglas was mentored by a half dozen MIC graduates and doctoral students teaching in area schools.
“Ryan and I intentionally built those layers into the program and I think it makes the MIC stand out as the best program in the state,” Swan said. “Xavier brings a host of talents and dispositions, and these traits are honed and skilled by the layers of expertise built into the MIC.”
The MIC program, chaired by Cheryl Matias, has a high job placement rate among graduates. Douglas had a dream job offer before graduating, as have most of his classmates. As Douglas prepared for graduation, his mind was already on his future students.
“I want to get to know their names from the start. Acknowledging people’s names is very important. I want to get to know them, interact with them, get to know what their lives are like,” Douglas said. “I want to help them any way I can, whether it’s to encourage them to get a higher score on that ACT or help them apply for college. I want to be that teacher whose name is brought up in conversation later on — how Mr. Douglas helped me succeed in life.”
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.