Teaching English & Hope: What’s Next for Our Distinguished GSE Alum?

Education is the opportunity to better oneself. That’s Sayuni Dias’ take.

Sayuni was three years old when she immigrated from Sri Lanka with her family to the United States. She never knew her maternal grandmother, an English teacher.

“Maybe it was just in my blood,” Sayuni said.

Now Sayuni teaches as a seventh grade English and Language Arts teacher in the same district she attended high school.

She knew she wanted to teach – but teach what exactly? The Rutgers Graduate School of Education’s five-year teacher education program drew Sayuni closer towards her career path.

“Since kindergarten, whenever someone asked me ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ It was always – I want to be a teacher,” Sayuni said.

In high school, Sayuni fell in love with literature and the idea of becoming an English teacher. After she earned her master’s in education, she went a step further and got her English as a Second Language (ESL) certification.

When she was in high school, Sayuni volunteered as an ESL program instructor at her local library. Now with her degree and certification, she continues to help language learners.  

The five-year program affords students one less year of graduate school tuition – a huge plus, Sayuni said. The GSE’s focus on excellence and equity in education was another.

Sayuni recalled attending Dr. Lauren Kelly’s Hip Hop Youth Research and Activism Conference (HHYRA), where she witnessed social justice conversations in action and a community of people “uplifted.”

“The GSE works hard to initiate action from scholarly discussions about social justice and education. That was important to me,” Sayuni said.

The GSE doesn’t shy away from hard conversations or making activism part of learning and teaching, she explained. Events like Dr. Kelly’s conference helped bring her cohort closer to each other and their professors through open, authentic discussion.

“The GSE is a place for people who want to be teachers because they want to see some kind of change in the world,” Sayuni said.

Sayuni graduated with her master’s in education in 2023. She was recognized that same year as a nominee for the New Jersey Distinguished Clinical Intern Award, which highlights students who have “demonstrated outstanding achievement during their student teaching placement.”

She also received the Nancy Higginson Dorr Award in 2023 which honors graduates who show promise of being exceptional teachers.

“This is a good time to get into education,” Sayuni said, referencing the decline in literacy scores seen on social media platforms like TikTok, “because we know that there are issues, and we can do something to make it better.”