Vatella Wins Prestigious James Madison Fellowship

July 3, 2014

Erica Marie Vatella
Erica Marie Vatella

Erica Marie Vatella has been awarded a James Madison Memorial Foundation Fellowship to study American history. Named for James Madison, the nation’s fourth president, the Fellowship will fund up to $24,000 towards Vatella’s Master’s degree.

“I grew up in Birmingham and our family always gravitated towards Auburn, even though my dad is a big Michigan fan,” Vatella said. “But if you live in this state you have to choose sides and we sided with Auburn.”

Vatella’s older brother L.J. is also an Auburn graduate, with degrees in Spanish and Communications.

“Growing up, my brother was big buddies with Ryan Pugh, who was an All-SEC and Academic All Conference football player at Auburn, and Ryan’s father often gave us tickets to Auburn games so I came down here a lot for that,” she said.

Vatella started at Auburn as a history major, but switched into the Secondary Social Science Education program in the College of Education after just one semester.

“I always thought I wanted to be a teacher but I thought I’d just see if anything else felt right,” she said. “It didn’t. By my second semester I was a Social Science Education major. My advisors Dr. (John) Saye and Dr. (Jada) Kohlmeier were there on my first day and have been a big part of my educational experience ever since. In fact it was Dr. Kohlmeier who suggested I apply for the Madison Fellowship. She herself had been a recipient as an undergrad, so I’m really indebted to her for working with me on that.”

The award goes to just one outstanding student in each state. Previous Auburn students who won the Madison Fellowship are Julie Bryan Payne (2004)and William Blake Busbin (2006), both from the Secondary Social Science Education program.

“I graduated in May and started right in to graduate school at Auburn,” Vatella said. “I could have gone to different places, but I love Auburn and the faculty in the College of Education. I also have a job starting in August at Auburn High School where I will be teaching American History to 10th and 11th graders so it works well in several ways for me to stay here in Auburn.”

Vatella said her undergraduate experiences in the Secondary Social Science Education program and the College of Education prepared her very well for her life as a teacher.

“I interned at Auburn High my senior year and they could see how well prepared I was because of my undergraduate experience,” she said. “We have 150 hours of field experience by the time we graduate, plus our 15-week full-time teaching internships, and the professors really push us to work hard and be great teachers. So we are ready to lead and excel in the classroom when we graduate. I got a good evaluation from Auburn High, and interviewed for an open position and was hired just like that. I feel really fortunate to be going to such a great school. I’m very excited.”

The purpose of the Madison Fellowship is to give aid to teachers getting a Master’s degree with a focus on Constitutional studies.

“I am excited about a career in teaching, because this is a place I can really make a difference,” she said. “Children are the future. I want to be a positive influence in people’s lives and help them grow up to be productive citizens. What better way to do that than to learn about the history of our country?”

The value of the Madison Fellowship is not lost on Vatella.

“Obviously it is great to not have to worry about part-time jobs and student loans, and be able to concentrate on studying and school work,” she said. “I went through my undergraduate years on a Spirit of Auburn scholarship, so I’ve been really fortunate. It is so important to have the kind of people and foundations that make these things possible. My scholarship liberated me from a lot of outside worries and allowed me to focus on becoming a great teacher, which is what I’ve always wanted to do. Auburn and the Madison Fellowship have done so much to make that possible.”

Story by George Littleton with photo by Scott Godwin