Spring 2024 UM-Flint Maize & Blue Scholar: Natanee Bruce

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In addition to being honored as a Maize & Blue Scholar, Natanee Bruce is the first in her family to earn a college degree.

Natanee Bruce always knew that she wanted to be a teacher. As part of a large family growing up in Milford, she prioritized her learning and set a goal to be the first in her family to earn a college degree. "I take great pride in being knowledgeable," the senior elementary education major said. "It's part of my identity, so it felt natural that I would want to share my love of learning with kids."

Bruce began her college career at Ferris State University, but after having her first child, she and her husband decided they wanted to be closer to family. With recommendations from her in-laws – all University of Michigan-Flint alumni – she joined the university's education program, focusing on lower elementary, pre-K through third grade.

"Even though my husband's family really boasted about their great experiences at UM-Flint, it wasn't the primary reason I chose the school," Bruce said. "I wanted a program that would provide me with the best possible opportunity for mastery, that went at the right pace and supported my development as an educator."

Her favorite and most memorable courses at UM-Flint were "Critical Perspectives in Education," a series of two classes that engage students with current topics in education. The first one allowed Bruce to practice teaching at locations outside of the classroom so that she learned new ways of integrating curriculum into immersive experiences. The second explored viewpoints that were genuinely eye-opening for her.

"I learned so much in that class because it gave us the chance to explore contemporary topics – some of which are kind of taboo right now – and how we might bring them up with our students," Bruce said. "Knowing if I, as the teacher, should be introducing topics like religion or race or sexuality, or if I should simply be responsive to the kids if they bring them up, was really helpful." Bruce's dedication and focus have led to her being recognized as a Maize & Blue Scholar – UM-Flint's highest undergraduate academic honor presented to no more than 26 students per year who excel academically and exemplify intellectual maturity and depth, character, talent and service to the university and the community.

"It meant a lot to me to be recognized in this way," said Bruce. "It was the culmination of a lot of hard work, and to have my professors – my mentors – write letters on my behalf felt really good."

As Bruce nears the end of her time at UM-Flint, she is gaining valuable experience as a student teacher at Big Rock Elementary in Chesaning. "It's an incredible school, I've learned so much," she said. "While I'm excited about working in elementary school for the next few years, my dreams have grown bigger the longer I've studied at UM-Flint. I'm determined to continue my education and earn a master's in special education to support general education teachers. Ultimately, I aspire to earn a doctorate and teach others to become educators."

When Bruce began her journey at UM-Flint, she had a particular goal – to become a teacher – but the supportive community and opportunities she found at the university expanded her perspective. "I was exposed to so many diverse experiences and people, and it opened up my world. I think it's important to be open, and incoming students shouldn't be afraid to veer off the path or the course they thought they would take. They should be ready and willing to do that.

"I'm a commuting student and a mother of three, so I know it can be hard to get involved on campus, but it's essential to make that time. Meet everyone you can. Build relationships and network as much as you can. I am so honored to be graduating with my cohort – we were in this together, helping each other become the best educators we can be."

Kat Oak is the communications specialist for the College of Arts, Sciences, and Education. She can be reached via email at [email protected].