Tuesday, May 7, 2024

University of Iowa College of Education student McKenna Haag is passionate about teaching others to use their voice and to inspire self-efficacy – whether they are her students or her fellow peers. 

Haag, an elementary education major from North Liberty, will deliver the student commencement address on May 9 at the College of Education Undergraduate Commencement and Teacher Education Program Recognition Ceremony. The program recognition ceremony will begin at 4 p.m. at Hancher Auditorium. McKenna will be one of approximately 171 undergraduate students who will graduate from the UI College of Education this spring. This includes those completing the Teacher Education Program and those graduating with Education Studies and Human Relations majors. Five UI REACH Program graduates are also participating in this ceremony for the first time.

“I think the biggest goal of mine is to be an advocate and a cheerleader. Students need to understand that they have a voice,” Haag says. “I took that goal of who I want to be as a teacher and put that in the speech.”

– McKenna Haag, Elementary Education graduate and student speaker

Haag says in her work with special education students, she wants to be an advocate so students can cheer themselves on through difficult situations. She is receiving endorsements in reading and strategist I, as well as a Teacher Leader Certificate for Social Emotional Behavioral Mental Health.

“Using that positive language is really important to me and understanding when you hear a student talking with doubt about themselves that you can stop that and kind of reteach their brain in that moment to think, ‘Hey, be proud of the progress that you made so far,’” says Haag. 

Haag came to the College of Education after receiving her Associate of Arts degree from Kirkwood Community College. She says the cohort model at the College of Education has been a key part of her education, allowing her to learn alongside a group with the same goals. 

“I feel like the sense of community at the College of Education really helped me to expand my identity as both a learner and a teacher,” Haag says. “We're always collaborating with someone.”

Through courses such as math methods, reading practicum and science methods, Haag says she was challenged to step out of her comfort zone and think about teaching in different ways. 

As a high school student at Iowa City West High School, Haag was able to assist her Advanced Placement statistics teacher and become involved with the Peer Assistance Leadership Program, which gave her a sense of what life as a teacher would be like. She also has done respite care for a young person with autism since she was 16. 

Haag also comes from a family of educators, including her father, who teaches middle school students at the College Community School District.

“I always remember in the summer going to my dad's classroom and pretending to be a teacher in the classroom and using the whiteboards,” Haag says.

One of her favorite memories from her time at Iowa has been experiencing the College of Education with her younger sister Claire Haag, a sophomore in the elementary education program and a Hawkeye Student Ambassador

Claire says McKenna has helped guide her college experience and has given her tips about classes. 

“Having someone who's been through it, who kind of knows what they're doing, and is able to give you some ideas and pointers has been really awesome,” says Claire Haag. “It's been great to get to watch her be a teacher and know that she's a big role model in my life.”

In the last two years, Haag’s studies have been supported by the Carol M. and Ed Stenson Scholarship in Education. 

After graduation, Haag plans to work at a school in the Iowa City area, near where she grew up. She was nominated to be the student speaker by the College of Education faculty. 

"I was extremely honored and flattered when I learned I was selected to be the class speaker on behalf of the graduating class of the College of Education. I am so grateful to have had the support and guidance from my family, friends, peers, and professors during my college career, and I know that I wouldn't be here without them,” Haag says. “I have had the honor to work with so many individuals that I admire, building relationships and learning from them over the years.”