Byron Lewis, IV has come full circle from where he began his academic journey — Topeka Public Schools (TPS). As a first-year teacher, within the TPS District, Byron has a unique opportunity to serve the community from which he was raised. When he landed his first teaching job in his home district, he said he was overwhelmed with excitement and pride. “I’ve always had a strong sense of community and desire to give back.” Byron’s academic journey is a story of commitment, discipline, and strong mentorship.
Prior to starting his first year of high school, Byron interviewed for a spot in the University of Kansas’s TRIO Math and Science Center (MSC), not fully understanding the impact that the program would have on the development of his character and academic skills. MSC provides services and opportunities that allow high school students to enhance and sharpen their analytical skills as a foundation for success in math and science fields. Through MSC, Byron had exceptional social and academic experiences while attending summer programs on the University of Kansas campus, which helped to springboard him into his college career.
MSC on-campus programs were the highlight of Byron’s high school summers. “I loved it! Since I didn’t play sports, it kept me active. I made a bunch of new friends and got to travel. My mom liked it because she said it kept my brain from going to mush over the summers.” Through participation in the MSC summer program, the development of discipline stood out to Byron as one of the most impactful outcomes. “You really felt like you were in college. It really made me disciplined; to see things through and to finish strong.” Byron carried these lessons into his college career.
As a first-generation college student, Byron’s college career was full of opportunities to demonstrate this discipline and persistence. Of the most memorable obstacles that Byron overcame was the financial aid process, “As a first-generation college student, you don’t know what you don’t know!” The financial unawareness was just as much an obstacle to Byron as the actual ability to pay for college. Programs such as MSC assist students through the college application and financial aid process, further bolstering their chances of success, and Byron remembered this program as a critical information source during this challenging time.
On the heels of his graduation from Kansas State University, Byron ran into the director of MSC, Hong Chuong. This allowed for an opportunity of reflection on the mentorship that he was afforded and further encouraged Byron that he was making the correct choice by going into education. In seeing his mentor, Byron remembered, “It was really powerful for me to see that he is still doing this work ten years later.” His experience with MSC was “incomparable”, and when asked what the completion of a college degree meant for him, Byron stated, “No one can take this degree from me. I know as a first-generation college student, there are often times where you feel like you aren’t going to make it. Now, being done and going straight into my field, I feel like it was all worth it and I am right where I need to be.”