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If Pope Francis is right, then Austin Mernagh is destined to bring a lot of meaning and joy to students.
“A good teacher does not get lost in the details but points to what is essential so that the child or student can find meaning and joy in life,” said Pope Francis.
In Kansas, those kinds of virtues are recognized by the Teacher of Promise Award, the highest honor a student teacher can receive. At Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, the education department selects individuals based on a commitment to Benedictine values and potential as a future teacher to propose for the award.
Mernagh, a senior, was awarded the Kansas Teacher of Promise Award for 2021.
He first came to Benedictine from Wichita, Kansas, and as a member of the Gregorian Fellows leadership program, he has made it a point to embrace the college’s mission of community, faith and scholarship.
His major is Secondary Education in Social Science with a minor in Theology.
He is active in community through the Track and Field team as a Decathlete and a part of the Athletic Director’s Student Leadership Council. He is active in faith as a part of a FOCUS Bible Study
But his greatest focus is scholarship, where he works intentionally at bringing the college’s mission into his personal approach to classroom management.
In addition to building individual relationships with students “I think it is vital to have community within your classroom,” he said. “A classroom with a healthy community can then help foster an incredible learning environment.”
Mernagh also said faith is important, even in public schools where it is not addressed directly. “I am currently student teaching in a public school, and by showing my students implicit ways of being Christ-like, I can portray someone who has an objective foundation, of course mine being my Catholic faith,” he said.
“By allowing my students to be who they truly are, and allowing myself to love them as Christ would, I can live out my faith through my actions as a teacher, where I might not be able to verbalize my beliefs,” Mernagh said.
Most directly, though, he said, a teacher is a model of scholarship. “A teacher that can motivate students to invest into their own education and have them grow a passion within their own educational experience, can instill in their students’ multiple traits that will carry them into greater things in the future,” he said.
Mernagh said that Benedictine College has worked hard to instill a passion in students to Transform Culture in America.
“What has surprised me the most at Benedictine College has been the support that everyone in the college has for one another,” he said. “They have given me the inspiration and the passion to educate future generations and to not only serve as an educator, but as someone who can have an impact on students’ lives.”
“I have come to understand this by the purest examples of our department,” he said, “and would not be the man I am today if it were not for their guidance and support.”