Shanae Nicholson

Photo by Lynn Anselmi

Martinez Fellow Shanae Nicholson brings a different background and experience to the classroom

Photo by Lynn Anselmi

IN THIS TIME of distance learning, Shanae Nicholson believes the ability to offer encouragement should top the list of necessary skills for teachers. And
encouragement is something teachers, as well as students, need right now. Nicholson would know. She’s both a teacher and a student.

Nicholson is a Martinez Fellow and a Seattle Pacific graduate student in the School of Education who says the Fellows program and SPU’s support culture keep her going and inspire her to be a better teacher.

“SPU has been very supportive, responsive, and engaged,” Nicholson said. “I’m so glad the Accelerated Master of Arts in Teaching program is a good fit [for me].”

The Martinez Foundation, founded by Seattle Mariners legend Edgar Martinez and his wife, HOLLI BEELER MARTINEZ ’91, established their Fellows
Program in 2008 to support educators from diverse backgrounds with scholarships and mentorships in their early professional years. Historically,
educators have been white.

“I make sure to tell my students, ‘Whatever you’re trying to do, you can do it.’ I am proof of that.” — SHANAE NICHOLSON

“Being a Fellow is really cool because it’s taking people from everywhere, not just one district or one type of school, or just one grade, but everywhere,” she said. “I can apply what I’m learning in class [at SPU] to what we’re discussing in our Fellow seminars.”

Nicholson, a first-generation college student, empathizes with her first grade students in the Kent School District — the second-most diverse district in
Washington state.

“As a teacher of color, I get to see both sides. I see myself when I was a kid and [I remember] how I viewed school,” Nicholson said. She now wants to be the
person who helps students view school as valuable and important. “It’s always nice when I can walk into a classroom and kids are just excited about school.”

Whether or not the excitement is natural or swayed by Nicholson’s fun-loving and creative methods, she wants to inspire and motivate students to achieve their academic and career goals. For students who come from underrepresented populations, she said, sometimes school is not fun, or easy, or even something that they are interested in. When she can get students motivated about school, she feels she has done her job for the day.

“Going to school wasn’t easy for me growing up, but I still was able to do it,” said Nicholson. “I make sure to tell my  students, ‘Whatever you’re trying to do, you can do it.’ I am proof of that.”

“For a lot of these students, I am their first Black, female teacher, and I might be their only [one]. I bring a lot of culture, and a different background and experiences,” she said. “I can relate to the students in different ways that maybe my peer teachers and colleagues cannot.”

Jill Heiney-Smith, assistant professor of teacher education and director of graduate teacher education at SPU, knows the value of the University’s partnership with the Martinez Fellowship.

“SPU has prioritized the recruitment and support of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] teacher candidates, and the Martinez Fellowship is a critical partner in our efforts,” said Heiney-Smith. “We have been steadily increasing the number of Fellows sponsored by SPU each year. The Fellows directly benefit from the programming and mentorship provided in their early careers, but the whole School of Education benefits, as well, through access to the thought leadership, community engagement, and professional development provided to University partners.”

According to Heiney-Smith, maintaining this partnership is one of the most satisfying and impactful aspects of her work as a teacher educator.

When Nicholson was accepted into SPU’s education program, professors like Heiney-Smith were just as excited as she was and encouraged her to apply for the Martinez Fellowship.

“They made me feel like I could do anything. This is exactly the type of educator I want to be. This is exactly how I want my students to feel,” said Nicholson.

Although admittedly anxious about getting rid of some of the practices she may have allowed during distance learning — permitting students extensive time for show-and-tell and to connect with one another — Nicholson is eager to apply what she’s learned over the course of teaching remotely. She works to assume the best intentions with students and frequently checks in on family wellness.

The combination of her time in the Fellows program, she said, along with SPU’s School of Education’s inviting culture and expertise, has made her experience as a teacher and student gratifying.

About the Martinez Fellowship

The Martinez Fellows program partners with 11 select colleges and universities across Washington state to bring more graduate students of color into the teaching profession. In 2013, Bill and Sabra Reichardt — both passionate advocates for social justice — were inspired by a Response article to help launch the Martinez Fellows Scholarships on SPU’s campus. (Before she passed away in 2015, Sabra was a teacher in Syracuse City Schools for many years.) Bill and a small group of SPU donors continue to faithfully support these important scholarships. You can donate to SPU’s Martinez Fellows program on our Giving Page at and select Martinez Fellows in the designation drop down menu.

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