Keionna Spears ’13 Meeting Benchmarks, Making HistoryPublished Tuesday, February 09th, 2021
Keionna Spears, class of 2013, shares her story.
Alumna Keionna Spears ’13, received her B.S. in biology, with a minor in chemistry. She knew she wanted to work in a lab, but also to help people. Keionna began her career in the research lab at University of Maryland, assisting drug companies in the clinical trial phase of FDA approval. “I helped drug companies in the animal trial [phase] of getting their drug approved,” she explained. But when government funding began to dissipate, Keionna had to find other employment. This time she landed at Johns Hopkins University working in Immunogenetics, working closely with organ transplant doctors, surgeons and patients. “We ran different tests to match individuals who needed transplants, either organ or bone marrow, with potential donors. We also ran tests after the transplants to make sure that the patients would not reject the transplant.”
Eventually, the demands of Keionna’s career took a toll on her personal life. Being on call caused her to miss time with her family. While she was using her degree, and doing exactly what she wanted, her true aspiration was teaching. Keionna started looking for education programs that helped individuals without an undergraduate degree in education receive a teaching certification. “I came across a great opportunity and couldn't pass it up.” Keionna had found Urban Teachers, a program the prepares, certifies and supports people entering the field of education. “I applied and went through the extensive interview process and got in the program.” Upon completion of the program, her certification will be in secondary math, teaching 4th-8th graders.
Keionna was placed this academic year at Mary E. Rodman Elementary School and is doing well. “My students consider me laid back and funny. I make my class enjoyable by talking to my students and giving them a voice in their education.” But with the pandemic, teaching has presented some obstacles and bonuses for the new teacher. “My students are very resilient and have rolled with this challenge with grace. Looking at a screen is boring all day. Incorporating what they like—Tik Tok, games and music—into my lessons has been my saving grace,” she said. “I think in the end this will only give them the determination and skills to get through life.”
Keionna’s philosophy for teaching is that your why must be bigger than the money. “Students really look up to and bond with the teachers and staff. You truly [must] know that you're doing much more than just teaching them about science. You are shaping them to be something in this world.”
When asked what impact her alma mater had on her personally and professionally, the newly minted educator proclaimed, “Coppin made me who I am today. I left there with this newfound determination. Coppin helped me to have a voice, to speak up and to never give up. Everything I want to teach and show my students.”
Keionna added, “I learned about my ancestor’s history [at Coppin] and made history by being the first to graduate from college in my family.”