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Alumna Profile: Jennifer Caylen

A dream vacation for a history student may consist of an all expenses paid trip to New York City equipped with walking tours led by Princeton history professors through famous archives and museums, meeting with important history scholars, and gaining access to primary documents such as Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech. For Aquinas alumna, Jennifer Caylen, this became a reality. Caylen received a week long history fellowship at Columbia University through the Gilder Lehrman History Scholars Finalist Program her senior year at Aquinas.

This fellowship was not easy to receive. Three hundred students from across the country applied and Caylen was one of only 45 who were selected. Caylen, who graduated from Aquinas in 2007 with a major in history, minor in political science and a secondary education certificate, has been the only Aquinas student to receive this distinguished fellowship.

Caylen learned about this opportunity when Dr. John Pinheiro, Associate Professor of History, mentioned it in his Gilded Age and Progressive Era class. It quickly interested her and with Pinheiro’s encouragement, she decided to apply.

Caylen had to submit a historical writing sample, two letters of recommendation, and a resume. Dr. Jason Duncan, Professor of History, wrote her a thorough letter of recommendation all the way from Ireland which Caylen still remembers and is grateful. “Without Dr. Pinheiro and Dr. Duncan I definitely would not have gotten the fellowship. I would never have even known about it if Dr. P would not have presented it to his students,” said Caylen.

Dr. Pinheiro speaks highly of Caylen and her achievements, “Jenny is among a handful of students I've had at Aquinas who have made teaching here worthwhile,” said Pinheiro. “She was always more interested in learning and constant improvement than just earning a grade or passing a requirement.”

Caylen chose Aquinas because of its small atmosphere and the beautiful area. The amount of financial aid was a nice incentive as well. But for Caylen, Aquinas turned into more than just a place to study. “[Aquinas] very quickly became my home and the five years I spent there were the best of my life. The campus was beautiful, the professors always went above and beyond and I made lifelong friends,” said Caylen.

Post graduation Caylen substitute taught in Rochester Hills before landing a job teaching history and geography at St. Stephen Elementary in Saginaw, Michigan. There, she won the “Most Spirited Teacher” award in 2009 and 2011.

Like she notes of the Aquinas professors, Caylen, herself, went above and beyond at St. Stephen Elementary. Not only did she teach but she also became heavily involved in many different aspects of the school during the five years she spent there. She was a member of the teacher leader team and school improvement team, she advised student council, and coordinated spirit weeks as well as Catholic school weeks, and literary in-services.

Caylen also has lent her time and skills to address undergraduate students. She has given two guest lectures at Aquinas and Saginaw Valley State University on effective techniques for teaching social studies. Her desire to share the skills that she has acquired with others is evident in her willingness to teach all ages.

Caylen recently received a position at a prestigious Detroit school, Detroit Country Day Middle School, where she will teach sixth grade social studies. Caylen credits Aquinas for giving her the skills necessary for becoming a great teacher. “I believe that my experiences at Aquinas played a large role in helping me secure the position,” said Caylen. “Aquinas provided me with a solid foundation built on academic rigor, hard work and setting incredibly high standards for myself.”

Even though Caylen graduated from Aquinas five years ago, she does not forget the impact AQ had on her as a student as well as the impact it makes every day in her career as a teacher. “Aquinas also taught me what it means to be a great teacher by leading by example,” Caylen said. “The professors there truly do care about the students and go far above and beyond. I have built my education philosophy around that example and I think it has really made me the educator I am today.”

Caylen offered a single sentence that embodies her love, appreciation, and loyalty for Aquinas because of the profound impact the College makes on its students as well as its alumni: “Once a Saint, always a Saint.”