Hannah Majewski has been teaching since she was in sixth grade.
Standing in front of her classmates, she gave a PowerPoint presentation about Down syndrome as a way to teach them about her younger brother, Eli, and those like him.
Now, the South Bend native is a Purdue senior majoring in special education.
“Back then, I just wanted people to recognize what my brother was going through and know how cool he was,” Majewski says. “I became an advocate. I’ve spent my life wanting to give people who are not fortunate enough to have a voice the chance to be understood.”
In October 2021, Majewski received the Purdue Women’s Network Scholarship. Endowed through the Purdue Women’s Network, this scholarship supports undergraduate women with a preference for students with no prior merit scholarships and who come from middle-income families. These students do not qualify for the 21st Century Scholars program and are less likely to have the means for a college education without incurring debt.
“I’m a first-generation student who was just scraping by,” Majewski says. “Even working 20-plus hours a week, I’ve had to use my student loan money to pay for groceries.
“I’ve never been the person to receive a scholarship, so the fact that I was chosen for this scholarship—I didn’t even apply—was so affirming. All of a sudden, there were people who wanted to know my story. I’m just really grateful.”
Karen McCullough, the director of scholarship stewardship and development for the Purdue for Life Foundation, played a large role in selecting Majewski for this scholarship. After filtering through the data to find students who met all of the donor criteria, McCullough says Majewski rose to the top as the most deserving candidate.
“It was something we felt very strongly about,” McCullough says. “As a student, Hannah was extremely well-qualified, but we had no idea just how amazing and lovely she would be in person! That piece fell into place so beautifully, and I am thrilled for her.”
On top of her coursework and her practicum hours, Majewski has also spent time during her undergraduate career working as a paraprofessional for Lafayette School Corporation. A paraprofessional is similar to a teacher’s aide, but as someone who is trained and credentialed, Majewski conducts one-on-ones with students and also helps with progress monitoring.
Majewski is currently working in a fifth-grade classroom, and her paraprofessional experience has allowed her to work with students with varying degrees of disabilities in various special education settings.
“In special education, you can have students in a resource room who are typically in a general education class but need help with reading or math,” Majewski says. “But you also have students who need help with functional skills—skills they need to learn in order to live independently.
“I never want to assume that a student isn’t capable of doing something, but that can be more difficult when you’re not immersed in their daily education. So being a paraprofessional has allowed me to really get to know the students, understand their needs more, and communicate with them better.”
In early January, Majewski will be starting her student-teaching experience—at a Native American reservation in Arizona.
“I feel like I’ve only experienced the same environment, so I felt like I needed a culture shock in order to become a better teacher,” Majewski says. “I want to be uncomfortable; I want to learn to adapt.”
“Hannah has always been up for a challenge,” says Brooke Max, senior lecturer in the Purdue Department of Mathematics and the course coordinator for mathematics education. “From my experience with her, if there was a challenge that felt unsurmountable, she would be willing to think about breaking it down into smaller, more manageable parts and conquer it that way.
“She has a lovely spirit about her, and I am so excited for her future students to get to experience that!”
When Majewski thinks back on those PowerPoint presentations she used to make for her brother, she laughs now, thinking about how those moments led her to where she is today. She’s still creating educational resources—but now it’s for her students’ parents to help them understand more about their children.
“I want to do whatever I can to help my students grow,” Majewski says. “When my students start to advocate for themselves—when I get to watch the shift from me being their voice to them communicating their own needs—it’s just such a cool experience.
“There’s never a day that I can predict what work is going to look like, but that end goal is what keeps me going. And my students keep my life interesting.”
If you would like to support Boilermakers like Hannah, make a gift today to help fund student scholarships. If you have questions related to the Purdue Women’s Network or the Purdue Women’s Network Scholarship, email firstname.lastname@example.org.