UAH Last-Mile Fund helps Stephen Mercier power past pandemic

Stephen Mercier

Stephen Mercier is now teaching geometry at Tanner High School.

Stephen Mercier

As this jaw-dropping year has taught us all, life can be full of many surprising twists and turns. So it's wonderful to know that The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of The University of Alabama System, has a plan in place for helping students over unexpected hurdles, especially during those times when this assistance can make all the difference.

UAH's Last-Mile Fund provides much-needed support to hardworking scholars when this help is most critical – the last year of their degree as they close in on the finish line of their educational career. This program enables students to persevere through daunting obstacles while holding onto their dreams. Students just like Stephen Mercier. He's a 2020 graduate of the College of Education with a focus on Secondary Mathematics. Stephen is a recent recipient of the Last-mile Fund and a great testament to the effectiveness of this program.

What sparked his dream to become a teacher?

"When I was younger, I was involved in the Boy Scouts of America and eventually earned my Eagle rank," Stephen explains. "It was during my time in Scouting that I first discovered my love for passing on knowledge to others. There was always something special to me about teaching a younger scout a skill that I had learned when I was their age."

When asked why he chose teaching math as his personal path to a fulfilling career, Stephen smiles and says, "I'm a problem solver. Problem solving comes natural to me, as it has with most of my family. Both of my parents are engineers, as well as two of my four brothers. Because of this, mathematics has always been very important to me as a tool for figuring things out."

Attending UAH proved to be just as natural for Stephen as wrestling with numbers: it was once again a family affair.

"Both of my parents and two of my four brothers are alumni from UAH," he notes. "Additionally, when I was deciding on where to continue my education, my significant other had just secured a job in the Huntsville area. Both these factors made choosing to attend UAH a very easy choice for me."

Stephen feels that his natural bent and joy for math will work to spark the same love for the subject in others, despite the challenges.

"Unfortunately, many people, in my experience, have a severe dislike for mathematics," he says. "I've often heard the phrase, ‘I'm not a math person.' I always found this to be interesting, because I've never heard my friends or coworkers say things like, ‘I'm not an English person' or ‘I'm not a History person.' It's my opinion that many of these individuals have the capability to be good at math, but more than likely had some bad experience that dissuaded them from wanting to pursue it anymore. This is sad to me but has further convinced me that my love for teaching as well as problem solving makes me a perfect candidate for a mathematics teacher. I want to be a good experience for them."

When queried about the obstacles he has overcome on the road to realizing his life's passion, rather than point to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 crisis, Stephen instead echoes a common lament among students.

"Mainly financial. I have paid for the majority of my education degree via student loans. Unfortunately, these loans really only cover the bare minimum needed to attend college. They will cover your tuition and books, but not other everyday expenses, like food, shelter and transportation."

Challenges like these demonstrate where the Last-mile Fund can provide the final boost to a student's educational goals, targeting essential support to help them see their hard work come to fruition.

Due to the global pandemic, this is a time that could give serious pause to any budding educator. But thanks to his diligent efforts and the help provided by the Last-mile program, Stephen is now busy launching the next phase of his career. This fall he landed a position teaching geometry at Tanner High School in Limestone County, all while planning his upcoming wedding. And nothing could ever change this bridegroom's mind about his decision to teach.

"The thrill of watching others succeed when they had previously struggled has stuck with me my entire life and helps fuel my love of teaching to this day."

Please consider giving to the Last-mile Fund. UAH's SSAFE Fund provides additional aid for personal emergency expenses as well. Thanks to your generosity, deserving students like Stephen Mercier, who want to put their passions to work for all of us in areas where they are most needed, will be able to do just that!



Maggie Allen

Russ Nelson