Maryssa Kucskar, Teach For America alumna, smiles at the camera

Alumni Spotlight: Q&A with Maryssa Kucskar

Here in the Las Vegas Valley, we have more than 330 extraordinary and diverse alumni shaping the political, economic, and social future of our city, state, and country. Learn more about those alumni, like Maryssa Kucskar, who recently co-authored two legislative papers and testified in front of Nevada’s legislature about Early Childhood Education.
Friday, March 31, 2017

What attracted you to your current role?

I grew up knowing that I was going to be an educator. Specifically, I thought I would take on a school leadership role. However, had it not been for my Teach For America placement in the Las Vegas Valley working in early childhood special education, I don’t know if I would be where I am today. I was trying to decide what to do next, and I kept in mind how I was going to impact students and families. The answer came down to the fact that I enjoyed helping others, teaching, and mentoring.  The Ph.D. program seemed like the right fit because I could become an expert in special education and early childhood education, teach aspiring educators, conduct research, and make a larger impact on young children with disabilities. I have met an immense number of educators nationwide who are working towards ending educational inequity, but there is still a long way to go.   

It must be quite a change to go from teaching young students to college students. What has that transition looked like?

Some of my most challenging moments were trying to think creatively when working with undergraduate and graduate students. My college students are constantly challenging me to be more creative in my instructional delivery, in-class activities, assignments, and translating research to practice.  It is my responsibility to prepare early childhood educators and special educators who will influence hundreds and potentially thousands of students over the years. Many work full-time while attending school, some work multiple jobs, and have families to care for. There is a sense of trying to be empathetic of students’ needs, but also knowing rigor must be maintained because they are going to be the ones in the trenches in classrooms. My students need to understand the realistic commitment of being an effective educator and practicing it daily.

What advice would you give to incoming corps members?

My challenges as a visiting lecturer are similar to many corps members: balancing work, school, and your personal life. I have learned to not be ashamed in self-care. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, no one else will. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, getting exercise, eating healthy, doing what makes you feel good and things that will keep you going. If you don’t, you won’t be present for your students or families.

What advice would you give to current corps members who are thinking about their own post-corps roles?

I have learned in my current role how to say “yes” even when you don’t have a full plan. By saying “yes”, I had the opportunity to work at University of Nevada, Las Vegas full-time as a visiting lecturer, work in Washington, D.C. as a doctoral student intern in the Office of Special Education Programs within the Department of Education, co-author two legislative policy papers, testify in front of the Nevada Legislature, and so much more. Knowing that by saying “yes”, you can develop your craft, build stronger community connections, and set yourself up for success in your next role. These are some of my most rewarding and proudest moments in the Las Vegas Valley. Yet, I wouldn’t have been able to do these things on my own. Find out who your professional mentors are that support your endeavors. Lean on these individuals for advice and new opportunities.