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Sarah Montello, BA ’16

8th Grade ELA Teacher, Durham Public Schools, Durham, NC

Sarah Jo Montello

Imagine researching 19th-century literature in one of the oldest libraries in Europe on the University of Oxford campus. For Sarah Montello, it was one of the most memorable moments of the summer she spent abroad in England. “Studying in the Bodleian Library was truly humbling,” she says. “I used primary sources to write my paper on the 19th-century novel Vanity Fair and found book reviews from 1843!”

Traveling abroad was an opportunity made possible by the St. Thomas Aquinas College Presidential Scholarship that Sarah was awarded, which also covered her full tuition for all four years. After graduating with a double major in English and Philosophy, a minor in Education, and a 3.9 GPA, Sarah was accepted into the Master’s program at Duke University. She credits her undergraduate education for preparing her for advanced studies and her teaching career.

“I probably wouldn’t have gotten into a Top 10 University without it,” she says. “The individual attention I got at STAC, coupled with the fact that our professors push every student and call us out when we aren’t working to our full potential, is the reason I was working at a triple pace,” says Sarah, who took 18 credits every semester. In independent and small group studies, Sarah delved into graduate-level literary works, and wrote three senior thesis papers, including one on religion in America that she presented at STAC’s Undergraduate Conference.

Despite a full academic plate, Sarah was involved on campus as a Resident Assistant, Spartan Ambassador, editor of The Thoma, and contributor to the "Spartans Speak" blog. She was also selected for an internship at the Bellevue Literary Review. “I spent two days a week traveling into New York City to read through submissions, work on the newsletter, and organize fundraising for the review,” she says. “I had my own office and everything. It was très chic!”

Initially, Sarah was a secondary education major, but after taking courses with Professors Shultz, Rothschild, and Martin in the same semester, she was inspired to challenge herself even more. “With their guidance and mentorship, I spent my time at STAC diving into topics that were engaging and worthwhile,” she says. “I still went to graduate school for education, but I approached it in a totally different way and it informs my practice every day.”

Her efforts paid off, and after teaching high school English in New York for one year, Sarah landed a position as an eighth-grade English teacher at a Title I School in Durham, North Carolina.

“Sarah did everything at STAC: she was a hard-working student—she double-majored!—was involved in student government, sang in a rock band, and much more,” says Professor Craig Martin, who was also Sarah’s advisor. “I got to know her well over the years. She always showed a deep intellectual curiosity and a profound work ethic, which she leveraged to take full advantage of many opportunities to enrich her undergraduate experience to prepare for the important role of educating future generations.”