Julia Genkinger always knew she wanted to become a teacher.
“Since my first day of kindergarten, I knew the classroom is where I wanted to be,” she said. “I went from playing school in my bedroom to helping my mother as a long-term substitute teacher, to later tutoring students my age.”
The USF graduate, who earned her bachelor’s degree in English Education in December, says she was eager to take on every opportunity she could while a university student. Her dedication to her studies resulted in her being the Fall 2020 recipient of the College of Education’s Graduation with Distinction Award—an award presented to students who stand apart from their peers in academic excellence, professional development, community service, and research.
While she was sure she wanted to teach, Genkinger says multiple subject areas interested her. At one point, she considered becoming a math teacher due to her love for problem-solving. Her passion for reading and writing drew her to a degree in English Education, which prepares aspiring educators to teach English and language arts at the middle and high school level.
Genkinger felt welcomed at USF right away. She says her academic advisors all knew her name and face when she visited USF’s Tampa campus for a tour. Once she began her major coursework, she immediately felt supported by her professors.
“Each faculty member took the time to get to know me personally and professionally during each campus visit, email, and phone conference before my arrival as a student,” Genkinger said. “I felt like more than a number or statistic to a university—I felt like there was a group of incredible people wanting to support me in my desire to make a positive impact on my community.”
To make the most of her time at USF, Genkinger participated in numerous opportunities. As a student in the Judy Genshaft Honors College, she conducted undergraduate research and participated in the Provost Scholars Program, a program for students on an accelerated track and planning to graduate in three years or less. She also participated in the College of Education’s SCATTER program, an honors program for aspiring teachers who want to go the extra mile in their careers through networking, service, and professional development.
Outside of academics, Genkinger fueled her passion for writing short stories and poetry through leadership roles such as serving as president of The Odyssey Online, a freelance journalist website for college students to showcase their writing skills. She continues to write as a freelance music journalist and is part of the leadership team for the rock music blog “All Punked Up,” a role in which she writes and creates videos and podcasts to promote the brand.
Genkinger says what she enjoyed most about her major is that it blends courses from two different areas of study. With coursework in English from the College of Arts and Sciences and educator-based courses in the College of Education, Genkinger says the format gave her a cohesive curriculum to learn from.
“The educator-based courses offered so many hands-on learning opportunities through practicums and projects that really shaped my ability to be a culturally sensitive teacher,” Genkinger said. “On the other hand, the English-based courses helped me analyze literature and practice my writing in ways I never got to in my educator-based courses.”
To gain hands-on experience in the classroom, she completed a full-time internship at Plant City High School, an experience that she says prepared her well for effectively teaching and caring for students of all backgrounds.
After graduation, Genkinger hit the ground running in her teaching career. She was immediately hired as a ninth-grade English teacher at Port St. Lucie High School, a school in her hometown of Port St. Lucie, Fla. Once she has a few years of teaching under her belt, she plans to go back to school and pursue a master’s degree in Educational Leadership so that she can advance into school administration.
“My ultimate goal is to serve on my local school board or on the Florida Board of Education to guide decision-making regarding standards and curriculum materials,” she said.
Genkinger credits her success to her family and boyfriend and the people she’s learned from throughout her studies: former teachers, her USF professors, and her academic advisors. She’s also thankful to her host teacher, Taylor Beaty, who she says shaped her as both an individual and a teacher.
When asked what advice she has for future students who aspire to follow a similar path, Genkinger said to “trust the process, because it is worth it.”
“I know there are times where you’ll feel overwhelmed, or you’ll second-guess your major selection, or you’ll regret taking this course this semester because it fits in better with another semester,” she said. “But everything is on track and everything will work out the way it needs to for you to be successful. You will cross that finish line with joy, I promise!”
USF's English Education program develop and support secondary teachers of English Language Arts of all backgrounds and at all levels as they expand access to literacy, empower language users, encourage critical thinking, create and deepen professional communities, and continue to learn and to share what they know.