August 26, 2009
With the establishment of the Troy Stearns Memorial Fund, Sandra Eiker (Education, ’62, ’64) found a way to honor an influential MSU faculty member and to pay tribute to her family’s belief in education and their heritage in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Sandra fulfilled her philanthropic goal by incorporating a charitable bequest in her will to the College of Education. When her future gift is realized, the Stearns Memorial Fund will provide fellowships for teachers from the Upper Peninsula to participate in MSU graduate programs.
The endowed fund, made possible by Sandra’s commitment through her estate, is named for Dr. Troy Stearns, a distinguished former Teacher Education professor, now deceased. Sandra remembers well his weekly assignment to produce a one-page summary of an article students chose from a list of leading periodicals that included Harpers and the Atlanta Constitution. This was one of many “perspective-expanding” techniques he used that Sandra later adopted for her own students. “He widened my horizons,” she recalled, noting that she still has one or two of her one-page summaries in her personal archive.
Sandra chose to support the College of Education with her gift not only due to the insights she gained through her long career as an educator, but also in recognition of a family legacy that valued education as the chief means to move up in the world.
Her father had lost an arm, which limited his ability to continue the family farming tradition. Instead, he earned a life certificate from what is now Eastern Michigan University and landed a teaching position in Monroe County. He went on to finish both bachelor’s and master’s degrees while working and was elected Commissioner of Education for the County. His sister Helen, starting out with just an 8th grade education, completed business school and worked throughout her life, including as a civilian employee for the Navy during World War II. Sandra’s mother was one of eight children born to Finnish immigrants in a U.P. lumber camp in the Newberry area. All eight children were sent on to education and into careers; Sandra’s mother became a math teacher following her graduation from Northern Michigan University.
Sandra’s own career in education included classroom teaching, college-level instruction, curriculum consultancies, and many administrative positions including district superintendent. In one notable position, she created and implemented a model of 24/7 childcare for the children of casino employees in Atlantic City. Along the way, she completed her doctorate at Columbia University while working full-time.
Sandra began to think about making a gift to further the education of U.P. teachers after she received an inheritance from her Aunt Helen. “She did what she could do to be self-sufficient with the education that was available to her at that time,” Sandra said. “She always honored education and was an unwavering supporter in encouraging my father to continue his education and was so proud that she lived to see me attain a district superintendency.” For Sandra, focusing on the Upper Peninsula seemed especially fitting as the U.P. had been not only the place of her mother’s birth, but also the place of many happy remembrances from family vacations. Both Sandra’s parents are buried in her mother’s family plot in Newberry. “I recall playing on the shores of the lake, waiting in line for the ferry,” Sandra said. “My treat when I graduated from high school was to cross the straits on the bridge.”
Sandra is grateful to the MSU College of Education for beginning her career. “I will always cherish the minds and actions of the highly qualified faculty members in the College of Education during the late 1950s and ’60s,” she said. “Other professionals known to me through my professional involvements have elected to join the faculty. They brought new dimensions to an already well-established college at a fine university.”
In U.S. News & World Report’s 2010 edition of America’s Best Graduate Schools, the MSU College of Education had seven specialty programs in the top 10, highlighted by elementary and secondary education, which both topped the list for the 15th straight year. Faculty and graduate students in the college’s Department of Teacher Education focus on improving teaching and learning through research and training programs for teachers – all with close ties to elementary and secondary classrooms. See http://news.msu.edu/story/6230/ for more on this report or visit http://www.educ.msu.edu for more information on MSU’s College of Education.
For more information on making a gift to the College of Education, contact Assistant Director of Development Julie Bird at (517) 432-0612.