Penn student finds passion in teaching

July 7, 2017 GMT

Dominque Bynoe-Sullivan had aspirations of becoming a doctor, but her passion later led her to education.

“When I was little my parents used to joke about it all the time that I would go to Harvard and be a lawyer and a doctor and manage my own practice,” she said. “That was what I dreamed of from the time I was little.”

But while in her sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania she switched her major from microbiology to health and society with a minor in urban education, before continuing on to receive her master’s degree and certification from Penn’s Graduate School of Education.

She was able to continue her education through a James Patterson Scholarship through the School of Arts and Sciences and with a GSE grant.

“I kind of bit off more than I could chew,” Bynoe-Sullivan said of the reason she switched majors in undergrad. “High school didn’t prepare me.”

An avid reader, Bynoe-Sullivan grew up in Brooklyn and had a 90-minute commute to-and-from school daily in both middle school and in high school. She took public transportation. Sometimes her father would giver her a ride to catch the train.

“My biggest influence is probably my dad,” she said. “When I was growing up, he was literally the person who said, ‘If you want to be a doctor, don’t just aspire to be a doctor, aspire to own a hospital.’ He supported every endeavor.”

Bynoe-Sullivan said when her father passed away, she drew strength from her mother. Today, both her parents are deceased. Her mom died of breast cancer after she completed her graduate degree.

“While she was very happy, she had to fight for everything she had in life,” the 22 year-old said of her mother. “Watching her pick herself up and then pick me up was really the craziest, most inspiring thing I’ve watched in life.”

A first-generation college student, Bynoe-Sullivan said a key component in education is listening to what children’s needs and interests are. She did field work at Henry C. Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia as well as in South Philly schools, including at Andrew Jackson School.

“I want to affect change on a larger scale,” she said. “I think the biggest thing that I learned from attending Penn is that one solution doesn’t fit all.”

NancyLee Bergey, an instructor and associate director of the Teacher Education program at Penn, said urban education is a niche to which Bynoe-Sullivan is deeply committed. She has worked with Bynoe-Sullivan through her undergraduate and graduate studies.

“She and her family made (education) a priority, and I think that she will pass that on to her students, which I think is wonderful,” Bergey said. “She is passionate about this. She cares deeply about learning. She pushed herself as a kid.”

In August, Bynoe-Sullivan begins the next step in her career when she joins Mastery Charter School, Clymer Elementary, in North Philadelphia, as a sixth-grade literacy teacher.

“In some public schools, it’s sink or swim,” Bergey said. “Mastery has a good support system with developing its teachers. This will really give her a chance to get her feet wet.”

Ultimately, Bynoe-Sullivan would like to start a community school.

“I could see her becoming a principal or coming back for doctoral work,” Bergey added. “That wouldn’t surprise me.”