Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient to graduate from UAB

Chelsea Walker-Griner, a 2011 Gates Millennium scholarship recipient, will graduate with an educational specialist degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages from the School of Education on Dec. 11.

cwg 2Photography: Khalil Johnson In 2011, Chelsea Walker-Griner was one of 25,000 minority high school seniors to apply for the Gates Millennium Scholars’ Program. After two rounds of semifinals and a final application round, she was one of only 1,000 students selected to receive what for her would be “a life-changing scholarship.”

By being selected as a recipient, Walker-Griner had opportunities that would not have been possible previously. The Gates Scholarship would provide her the financial funds to earn an undergraduate degree and attend graduate school, as long as she could meet the grade requirements. 

She earned her bachelor’s degree in 2016 and, due to her academic performance, obtained the scholarship and earned a master’s degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages in 2018.

Upon completion of her master’s degree, Walker-Griner knew that her education journey was not yet completed.

Fulfilling grade requirements during her master’s courses, the Hamilton, Georgia, native was given an additional extension to the Gates Scholarship. With funds secured, she decided to continue on the TESOL path, and for her, there was no question she would do so at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Education.

“The Ed.S. program in TESOL at UAB had so many components that attracted me: the list of accolades by the faculty and the caliber of students who had graduated and continued to excel, to name a few,” she said. “I knew that this is where I wanted to pursue my next degree.”

UAB offers an educational specialist degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, which provides advanced training in the teaching and learning of English as a second language and English as a foreign language. Targeted for educators who already hold a master’s degree in TESOL or a related area, this Ed.S.-TESOL prepares educators to assume mentorship and leadership roles to guide other educators in meeting the English-learning needs of theirs students in P-12 and adult settings. 

Susan Spezzini, Ph.D., professor in the UAB Department of Curriculum and Instruction, knew that Walker-Griner would excel in the program.

“Upon reading her admission application that Chelsea was a Gates Millennium Scholar, I immediately knew that she would excel in our program,” she said.

While taking courses in the program, Walker-Griner was surprised by the amount of diversity among the faculty in the UAB School of Education.   

“In my courses, I had exposure to more women of color professors than I had my entire undergraduate and master’s career,” Walker-Griner said. “Being a minority student, it was extremely motivating and refreshing to see these women of such rapport be admired and respected in their fields.”

Seeing this diversity inspired the career she plans to pursue after graduation — teaching the educators of tomorrow.

“What the professors at UAB have been to me, I hope to be to another young man or woman in the future,” she said. “My professors challenged me, which created success and a sense of accomplishment, practices that I will surely implement in my future classrooms.”

Through a career in higher education, Walker-Griner hopes she can make an impact on instruction and language for the classrooms of future generations.

“I want to be part of changing the lives of children by showing teachers how students learn best, regardless of any present exceptionality or disability,” she said. “Their character and minds are tools, and my job will be to show teachers how to complement and enhance that idea.”

Spezzini, Walker-Griner’s academic adviser, believes she has a bright future ahead of her. 

“Since her first semester at UAB, Chelsea has consistently demonstrated a high degree of curiosity in discovering new ideas and trying out innovative strategies,” Spezzini said. “These skills will serve her well as she begins her teaching career.”

Walker-Griner plans to continue her own education and pursue her doctoral degree while teaching.

“The UAB School of Education has something special to offer to students,” she said. “The experience I had at UAB reinforced the Gates Millennium Scholarship goal of promoting academic excellence and providing opportunities for minority students.”