Skip to main content

UA Little Rock Grad Thanks Learning Assistants Program for Jumpstarting Teacher Career

Mackenzie Rash
Mackenzie Rash

Mackenzie Rash has loved science since the tender age of 10, so earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock seemed like a smart and easy decision.

“I’ve always been interested in science since the fifth grade,” Rash said. “I had an awesome science teacher, and we did experiments all the time. I always loved science and participating in science fairs.”

Rash’s bachelor’s degree also comes with a concentration in secondary education. The graduating Little Rock native plans to teach science for grades 7-12, but her path to becoming an educator was far more complex than choosing biology, starting with the fact that she has previously sworn off teaching for good. She credits her change in heart to two inspiring teachers, Katrina Donoho and Stacy Stockton, at Sheridan High School who changed the course of her life.

“I’ve known I wanted to become a teacher since high school,” Rash said. “I grew up in a family of educators. I saw what they went through, and I told myself I would never be a teacher. During my senior year of high school, I had two teachers who really impacted me, and that is when I figured out what I wanted to do.”

After seeing the positive impact that teachers can have on students, Rash started working at the Boys & Girls Club of Saline County in 2019, where she spends every afternoon mentoring and building relationships with students in grades 5-12.

“My favorite thing is the kids,” Rash said. “I love going there every afternoon and making a difference. I think they have taught me just as much as I’ve taught them.”

Rash earned her associate degree at the University of Arkansas – Pulaski Technical Institute before joining UA Little Rock in 2021, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. She felt isolated during this time and said participating in the university’s Learning Assistants (LA) Program helped her gain teaching skills and confidence in her abilities. Learning assistants are peer mentors who are trained to help students understand class material using evidence-based practices like facilitated group work.

The graduation photos of Mackenzie Rash were taken by her sister, Mallory Elledge!
The graduation photos of Mackenzie Rash were taken by her sister, Mallory Elledge!

“When I transferred during COVID, I didn’t know anybody and felt very isolated,” Rash said. “I was a learning assistant for Fundamentals of GOB Chemistry with Ronia Kattoum and later a learning assistant mentor. Being a learning assistant gave me a sense of belonging. It helped me believe in myself and give me the skills and confidence I needed to be a teacher. If it wasn’t for being an LA, I think I would have changed my mind about teaching. I wanted to be a teacher, but had never taught anybody before being a learning assistant.”

Ronia Kattoum, advanced instructor of chemistry, said she loved watching Rash transform into one of the best learning assistants on campus.

“She is a fantastic student and loves helping kids, but many people discouraged her from teaching,” Kattoum said. “Taking classes with us and being in the LA Program turned things around for her. Now she is graduating and applying to become a science teacher. I am very proud of her accomplishments and embracing teaching science.”

Rash has recently finished her student teaching assignment at Bryant Junior High School, where she taught biology and physical science classes, and is now looking forward to the next step in her career.

“Finishing up student teaching at Bryant Junior High was bittersweet,” she said. “I enjoyed learning from other teachers and getting to teach in an actual classroom. It made me excited to have my own classroom and students in the future.”