Faith Simon describes the beginning of her life as loving but challenging. She was born premature to a single, teen mother from Indianapolis in 1997. Then, the day after 9-11, Faith’s mom enlisted in the military.
“My life did a 360,” Simon said. “Suddenly we had guaranteed housing, good schools, and just so much more stability.”
On Faith’s doctor’s advice, in kindergarten she was tested for Gifted and Talented designation. She credits this as the step when she began to feel confident and begin developing her academic side, an identity that has lasted to this day.
After hard work in middle and high school, Faith started UT feeling on top of the world. Her first big test was in Chem 301.
“I got out of Garrison, the tower was lit, and I was like ‘Wow, I just did so great.’ I checked my grade two hours later and had failed,” she said. Shocked and upset, Faith worried that maybe she’d made a mistake coming here.
But, that was freshman year. Today, Simon’s received a Stand Out award from her professor as well as recognition from her peers.
“My mom completed her education in the military but didn’t have a traditional education path,” she said. “So I’m really out here paving the way.”
Her sophomore year, Faith was encouraged by a professor to pursue a summer internship. She applied and was accepted to one of the most selective programs in the country. That summer, Simon flew alone to Boston to spend 11 weeks at Johns Hopkins researching in a Nobel-Prize-winning lab through a National Institute of Health research initiativeHer experiences in Baltimore weren’t only in the lab. She also volunteered at a homeless shelter, focusing on helping victims of the opioid epidemic. She got a taste for service, and, a year later, she was studying abroad in South Africa with Dr. Moore, interning with a home health aid company.
“Comparing my experiences in Baltimore and comparing what I saw in South Africa, it’s like a whole different level of struggle,” she said. “At one point, we were driving with a nurse to her first stop. She told us the last time she was in the court [apartment complex] we were going to, people shot at her car. We could still see the bullet holes along the side, but she still came back on her regular schedule.”
The idea that someone would continue helping despite great personal risk inspired Faith.
Another eye-opening experience was watching the way her mentor, Dr. Moore, moved through Cape Town as a venerated citizen. Seeing someone like herself in a place of honor and a position to change things stuck with her.“
Dr. Moore is a very go-with-the-flow-experience kind of person,” Faith explained. There was one day when the students had a choice about how to spend their time. Some went on an excursion, and others chose to go on a trip to an event that Dr. Moore described as a “memorial or ceremony.”
“I chose the latter and, when we got there, found out he had totally downplayed it.” Simon said.
“We show up to this thing, and at one point, Dr. Moore came up to me and someone I was talking to and introduced them as the leader of one of South Africa’s branches of government,” she said. “Eventually people started getting up on stage, and us students end up listening to parliamentary leaders, who all knew Dr. Moore, talking about how great he is,” Faith said.
While Faith had never thought about being a teacher before, but Dr. Moore’s influence and ability to guide his students and shape the minds of people who were actively governing South Africa gave her pause.
A few months later, she found out about Teach For America. The more she thought about it, the more it felt right.
“Someone I knew told me they basically saw me as Ms. Frizzle,” she said proudly. After consulting her friends and her mother, Simon decided this was something she could see herself being especially good at.
“My story so far is just the summation of all of my experiences,” she told me. Faith’s story is a combination of the things she’s seen, living all over the US, spending college exploring an even greater swath of the world, and seeing educators and PhDs who look like her. “It's inspired me to go out and make something happy in the world,” she said.
Faith will spend her next two years giving all her time to middle schoolers in Dallas-Fort Worth. After that, she wants to get her PhD and become a professor in the sciences. In Faith’s experience, she has never had a black professor in UT’s College of Natural Sciences. She wants to change that for the next generation of students.
“Ultimately, I’d like to start a foundation that works specifically to get black girls in inner cities to be exposed to science and medicine,” she said. “You hear about Einstein, Niels Bohr and no one else.” Maybe one day, students will be learning about Faith Simon too.
Dallas Ft. Worth Science (7-12)
Biology, minor in psychology (PrePA)