The student speaker for IUP’s graduate Commencement ceremony on Friday, May 10, is Rachel Schiera, a resident of Indiana originally from Hayes, Virginia, who will receive her doctor of education, curriculum and instruction degree at the ceremony.
The ceremony is at 7:00 p.m. in the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex. There are 419 master’s degree and 76 doctoral degree recipients invited to participate in the May 2019 graduate commencement ceremony.
Growing up in a military family, Schiera has lived in several states. She completed her bachelor’s degree in English with a focus in publishing and editing at James Madison University. For the next two years, she taught English in China. This first teaching experience convinced her that she loved teaching.
“I was in China shortly after the Tianaman Square protests, so it was a little bit unnerving at times, but it was a great experience,” she said.
She returned to the United States and earned her master’s degree at the School for International Training in 1999, where she met her husband. They spent the next seven years in Korea as teachers.
How did she end up at IUP?
It’s all due to a chance meeting with Ben Rafoth, professor of English and Distinguished University Professor.
“My husband met Ben Rafoth at a conference,” Schiera said. “He was so impressed with Ben that he insisted that we had to check out IUP. We came for a visit. I had no intention of doing a doctorate, I just thought maybe I’d come here and teach. Because there were no teaching openings at the time, I decided to enroll in the doctoral program.
While it happened somewhat accidentally, Schiera is glad that it did.
“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “IUP’s program is very good at affording opportunities. I think that is one of IUP’s biggest pluses—the faculty here are so good at giving opportunities to anyone that shows an inclination or interest, and they are really good at encouraging students to focus on their own interests, not the agenda of the professor or mentor.
“I see how faculty here really work to build up the strengths of students as students move through the academic process. I’ve been fortunate to interact with faculty from other colleges of education throughout the state, and I’ve talked with other doctoral students from other institutions about what IUP offers. Everyone is so impressed with the kinds of opportunities that IUP offers its students.”
At IUP, Schiera received the College of Education and Communication’s Dean’s Award for Student Research in 2018 and 2019 and the College of Education and Educational Technology President’s Research Award in 2016.
Schiera’s doctoral research has focused on soft skill development in one-to-one initiative high schools, with the goal of creating an instrument for schools to use to measure soft skills. She was a finalist for the 2018 IUP Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) competition held during Research Appreciation Week, presenting “The $25,000 question: What does a laptop initiative get you?”
She is a member of the American Association of University Women, New England Educational Research Organization, and Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators. She has been affiliated with the Takatuf Young Scholars’ Programme since 2012, volunteers in the Indiana public schools, and has been involved in community music programs during her time in Indiana.
She and her husband, Tony Schiera, are the parents of three children, Tian, Silas, and Tehva. She is the daughter of Ginny and Karl Miller of Gloucester County, Virginia.
Schiera has great praise for the Indiana community and for the Indiana school district.
“This whole community is amazing, and the school system has been excellent,” she said. “I’ve been in many school systems, and the Indiana district is outstanding, comparable to exclusive private schools where I have taught.”
She says she’s very honored to have been chosen to serve as the student speaker for commencement.“I’ll be talking about growth in my speech, and about how a comment about my stature many years ago made me think about how growth isn’t about the physical; it’s about the learning and about everything that an experience can give to you.”
She may be celebrating graduation on May 10, but she might still have use for her graduation cap and gown.
“I’m thinking about enrolling in IUP’s Master of Education literacy program,” she said. “There’s such a need for educators with literacy skills, so I’m going to stay for this second degree. My children are happy in the school district and here in Indiana, and my husband is settled in at his job at Shepherd University, and he doesn’t mind the commute.”