Checking in With the Scholarship Recipients

ornamentsDear Friends:

As we prepare for the holidays, Colleen’s favorite time of the year, we wanted to once again thank you for your support of the Colleen E. Ritzer Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Often, generous individuals such as yourself support an effort such as this, but rarely is information shared relative to the continued impact of that generosity. We recently reached out to the first recipients of a scholarship in Colleen’s name to see how their first semester went and if they were still pursuing a degree in education.

Each of the individuals who responded shared that the first semester was a tremendous success and their decision to pursue a degree in education – Colleen’s major – was strengthened or reaffirmed. As parents and siblings of Colleen, we are proud that Colleen’s legacy continues through these students. We are comforted that Colleen’s spirit continues to inspire. Thanks to your support of Colleen’s scholarship fund, another generation of passionate, caring teachers is studying hard to follow in Colleen’s footsteps, empowering and inspiring another generation of students.

We thought you might enjoy reading about the scholarship recipients’ progress towards an education degree. Please click here to read more about their first semester.

On behalf of our family, thank you once again for your support of Colleen’s scholarship fund. Your support is making a tremendous difference.

May you have the very best of holidays and happy New Year.


Tom, Peggie, Dan & Laura Ritzer

Checking in With the Scholarship Recipients

From Massachusetts to North Carolina and many places in between, the first recipients of a Colleen E. Ritzer Scholarship have just concluded their first semester, many having reaffirmed their decision to pursue a degree in education.

For Mary Leahy, who has wanted to be a teacher since she was in elementary school, the scholarship is helping her live out her dream.

An education major at Wagner College in New York, Leahy was nervous about her first semester away, but quickly adapted to the new college workload and met a number of new friends. Those classes she most enjoyed this first semester were education courses such as ‘Ways of Knowing’ where she was partnered with a 24 year-old diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy.

“Her life goal is to become independent and be able to live independently,” shared Leahy.  “Each session we worked on making a cookbook for her to use in the kitchen to help gain her independence. Working with her was always the highlight of my week and from the moment she walked into the room she put a smile on my face,”

The scholarship is not only assisting in the financing of Leahy’s education, but also helping her to “enjoy both my time at school and my first teaching job.”

“I know for a fact that I was born to be a teacher and my first semester of college has confirmed that for me and has made my desire to make a difference even stronger.”

Leahy also expressed her gratitude to supporters of the scholarship fund.

“Thank you for the wonderful gift you are giving me. You are helping me live out my dream and I will be forever grateful to all of you. Ever since I was in elementary school I have –wanted to become a teacher and now I am finally living out my dream,” Leahy shared.

At Assumption College in Worcester, Jessica Ferronetti not only discovered that she chose the right school, but is “really enjoying my Spanish and Education classes, especially because everyone in the classes are also majoring in them.” The scholarship “helped me to push myself in order to get the education I need, so I can be the best educator I can be.”

Ferronetti’s decision to pursue a degree in education was reaffirmed this past summer while working as a camp counselor. “I loved working with all different types of kids, and every single one of them helped me to learn how to be a better leader,” she shared.  “It truly made me want to become the best teacher I could be.”

“I am honored, every day to be living out Ms. Ritzer’s legacy,” Ferronetti shared.

Also studying at Assumption, Carly Sakellarios quickly discovered that her classes and teachers at Andover high well-prepared her for academics and social situations at the collegiate level.

Sakellarios noted ‘Schools and American Society’ as one of her favorite classes this past semester because “it’s exciting to know that I have begun my journey of becoming a teacher. Hearing stories from my professor about her experiences teaching has gotten me even more excited about my major than I was before.”

Like other recipients, the scholarship has provided some assistance in the costly effort to purse a college degree.

“I work hard during the summer, but now with the scholarship’s help, it has taken off some pressure of needing a job during the school year,” said Sakellarios. “Because of this [scholarship], I am able to concentrate and focus on my classes and studying. It has also been a huge motivation, because it is such an honor to have received this scholarship.”

The first semester, and interaction with other education majors, has generated newfound excitement for her chosen major. “The classes I have taken here, and the stories I have heard from upperclassmen that are learning to become teachers, has made me even more confident that I am on the right path,” she shared.

“I am finally on my way to becoming a teacher, and I wouldn’t change that for any amount of money.”

To the supporters of the scholarship fund, Sakellarios shares her gratitude.

“Your support of the scholarship makes a difference to students who are planning on becoming a teacher, so your support will make a difference in children for years to come. It is beyond appreciated.”

Studying at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Christine Aumais was often reminded of Colleen’s impact this past October as some of Colleen’s favorite quotes were displayed in pink chalk throughout the campus community. Like many first-year students, Aumais approached college with excitement and nerves.

“Entering college, I knew I wanted to have a career working in …high school, but I was still apprehensive and really nervous,” Aumais shared. “I don’t feel apprehensive or nervous anymore because I know that it is a good fit for me and I am so confident that teaching is exactly what I want to do. I am so excited to continue exploring and figuring out who I am as a person.”

Among those courses she has most enjoyed. Aumais drew a particular interest to a sociology class- ‘Social Problems’- that explored pressing topics such as race, gender, class and more.

The scholarship has empowered Aumais, allowing her to “focus on my studies and getting involved within the UMass community. Because of the scholarship, some of the financial burden has been lifted, and I have time to pursue what I love, rather than stressing about earning money to pay for books and tuition.” Aumais’s decision to pursue an education degree has only intensified since starting at UMass Amherst and she has even begun to explore the possibility of serving as a guidance counselor.

“College if anything has made me more interested in pursuing a degree in education. I have loved watching my professors teach because each and every one of them is so passionate about the subject they are teaching, as well as helping us learn and spark the same interest and excitement in us as they have. I am however exploring other options in terms of what subject I would like to teach, as well as considering counseling. I had never thought about becoming a guidance counselor before until it was also suggested to me by a personality survey in OASIS. Something about it stuck out to me and I have been looking into it recently.”

“Mostly everyone I have met decided to become a teacher because they want to make a difference in the lives of children.

They want to make them excited to learn and be a part of their growth into adults. One friend said something that really struck me, and I think really sums up why most people want to pursue a career in teaching; ‘If even just one kid grows up to be a better person because of you, the world will be a better place.’”

The scholarship has alleviated some of the burdens associated with pursuing an advanced degree. “I would like to say thank you to everyone who has supported the scholarship fund. Not only has this scholarship helped me relieve some of the costs that come along with college, it has really made me think about what it truly means to be a teacher, and more importantly reminds me daily to be a good, kind person. I am so proud to be connected to Colleen’s wonderful legacy through this scholarship and I will do my best in continuing it through teaching as well as spreading kindness.”

Courtney Comeau, also student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst quickly discovered that time management is critical to a successful college experience. “As the work load increases, along with my practice schedules and extracurricular activities, it was very important to manage my work accordingly,” she explained.

Possessing a “passion for writing” the class ‘English Writing’ helped her to refine her creative writing skills.

And the scholarship itself has “encouraged me that teaching is a realistic goal seen in my future and going for my masters will be more attainable with the help you have provided me.”

Comeau offers her thanks to the scholarship fund supporters and reflects on how the fund enables Colleen’s legacy to continue inspiring aspiring students. She also pledged to pursue a career in teaching to carry on her legacy.

“I would like to thank the people that have supported the Ritzer family and the Colleen Ritzer Scholarship.  This has, ultimately, supported me.

It means so much to me to carry on Colleen’s dreams of becoming a teacher and helping children.

You have no idea how this has driven me to be my best.  I am so proud to be a recipient of this scholarship and so proud to carry on Colleen’s legacy.  I will go on to do great things, I promise!

In only her first semester at Endicott College, Emily Felter has already ventured out of the classroom volunteering with people with disabilities at the North East ARC. Inside the classroom, she  – appropriately — discovered ‘Introduction to Education’ as her favorite course. Thanks, in part, to an energetic and inspiring professor the class focuses upon Felter’s core area of interest.

The scholarship made her decision to attend Endicott an easy one.

“Without the scholarship I would most likely have had to go to a different school,” she explained.

“Starting the education program at Endicott has … confirmed that I have made the right decision in my career choice,” Felter shared. “I look forward to learning over my four years what it will take to be an amazing teacher.”

Like her peers, many of Felter’s friends are pursuing an education degree because they, like Colleen, “want to make a difference in a child’s life” and make sure kids are provided the very best educators to inspire them to achieve their full potential.

The supporters of the scholarship fund reassure Felter that “so many people are willing to support and reach out to the teaching community. Who knows where I would be without this scholarship, and right now I couldn’t be happier. Thank you so much for your support.”

Tess Dever, studying at The University of Connecticut, has already immersed herself in the education program in and out of the classroom.

As a member of the UConn’s Future Educators club, the University’s future teachers gather once a week to plan academic nights, literacy programs and science programs at nearby elementary schools. The program also exposes the future teachers to those who have served a lifetime and even one year in the classroom. Dever is also involved with ‘America Reads’ a program where she visits first grade classrooms and assists the teacher writing, reading and workshop lessons.

The scholarship and her first semester at UConn solidified her decision to major in education.

“I believe that it [the scholarship] was that extra push that I needed that forced me out of my comfort zone to get involved as a first-semester freshman in different things that UConn’s campus has to offer,” Dever explained. “If one thing is for sure, it is that after my first semester at college I want to be a teacher more than ever.

Everything that I took part in convinced me more and more that I know what I am supposed to be doing in life.”

To the scholarship supporters, Dever offers these simple words of thanks: “Since I was little I wanted to be a teacher, and this scholarship is what helped me strive for my dream. A year from today I will be applying into UConn’s Neag School of Education in an integrated bachelors/master program to be able to become the teacher I have always wanted to be. I would just like to say, thank you.”

Salem State University was Samantha Walters’s choice to begin her journey toward the teaching profession where she discovered a number of students who are also charting a similar career path. She has enjoyed the flexibility and academic choices provided by college.

“Whereas in high school we took classes we were mostly required to take, at college you take more classes you are genuinely interested in,” Walters explained. ”This allows you to meet more people like you, and sort of discover more about yourself.”

With a continued interest in education as a major, specifically as a high school math teacher like Colleen, Walters has met many who, like she, “all agree that we chose it because we are passionate about the subjects we want to teach and we want to make a difference in the lives of other kids.”

The scholarship has made a tremendous impact on Walters, for which she is very grateful.

“I would like to extend my sincerest gratitude and appreciation to the supporters of the scholarship fund, and to the Ritzer family for making a difference in our lives and providing the ability to pursue education,” Walters shared.

Sarah Mountain also chose Salem State to begin her studies towards becoming a teacher where she thoroughly enjoyed her ‘Exploring Education’ class. The class introduced the future teacher to the various aspects of the education system and the different philosophies teachers follow. Although a first-year student, Mountain has already begun what she described as the “fun” classroom observations: a kindergarten and fifth grade class in a local elementary school.

Thanks to the scholarship, Mountain will graduate will a little less debt.

She also shared her pride to “represent the scholarships message to the community and represent Ms. Ritzer’s legacy.” That legacy and her classes have generated a new eagerness towards a degree in education.

Mountain has many words of gratitude for the supporters of the scholarship fund.

“Thanks to your support of this scholarship, the legacy of Ms. Ritzer will be kept alive and help make the world a better place one great teacher at a time,” said Mountain. “By supporting the scholarship fund we can help everyone see the good in every day.

“I would also like to thank the supporters of the scholarship for helping me live my dream of becoming a teacher. With their help I am now going to school to become a teacher. I dream to someday create a difference in the world like Ms. Ritzer’s did for her students.”

Nearly 800 miles south of Salem, Andrea Lang has also declared education as a major at The University of North Carolina, Wilmington where the “freedom, independence, high expectations, distractions—and therefore room for mistakes—that came with my first semester of college forced me to discover a lot about myself,” she explained.

“I learned the best way for me to learn, work, prioritize and stay motivated. In particular, I learned that by setting small, manageable goals I stay focused and motivated and get everything done. Setting smaller goals and making plans, schedules, or “To Do” lists lessen my stress and keep me happier.”

Lang’s favorite class in her first semester was an elementary education-based class ‘Concepts in Mathematics.’ The class added additional excitement about her degree choice and inspired Lang to declare a minor in mathematics.

“I loved exploring the reasoning and concepts behind basic mathematics that I was usually told to just accept or memorize as a child. I enjoyed the way the class challenged me to explain these concepts and solutions with pictures and words in a way that an elementary level math student would understand,” she shared.

The Colleen E. Ritzer Memorial Scholarship has not only provided financial assistance, but also motivated her to “push myself and positively impacted my success and attitude this semester.”

Lang, too, is also grateful to the generous supporters of the scholarship fund.

“I am extremely grateful for the supporters of the scholarship and the opportunity they gave me to receive such a meaningful award,” Lang shared. “Colleen’s memory and passion for teaching continues to inspire and motivate me to work hard, stay positive, and be good to people.”