No matter what field an educator enters, there is one challenge they all face on their journey to graduation: funding their unpaid, semester-long, student teaching internship.

This task is even harder for first generation students like Natalie Heflin and Sarah Wright who had the dual struggle of having to fund their own education and learning how to navigate the college experience.

But these students both had a stroke of luck. Their advisor, Natalie Ferand, assistant professor in the Career and Technical Education program in the Virginia Tech School of Education, nominated them for the Paid Internship Scholarship for Aspiring Virginia Educators, made available by the Virginia Department of Education. The two students were awarded the money during their time as student teachers: $10,000 for Wright and $5,000 for Heflin.

“When I found out that I got the scholarship, I fell to my knees.” said Wright, “I was so happy and I couldn't believe it.”

In addition to being exemplary students, Wright and Heflin were selected because of their field, Career and Technical Education (CTE). Teachers in this field are in high demand in Virginia schools.

“CTE is ranked No. 4 on the Virginia Department of Education’s Critical Teaching Shortage Areas,” Ferand explained.

Part of the reason that demand is so high is that the field is incredibly broad. It includes  vocational trades, such as welding and auto mechanics, and other fields,  such as agriculture, medical training, and the culinary arts. Virginia recognizes 17 career clusters and 83 pathways within CTE, meaning that if a school is interested in offering CTE classes, they’ll need teachers with a wide variety of skills.

For Wright, who specializes in horticulture, a major motivator for her teaching path is food insecurity, which she experienced growing up. She said many people are disconnected with the process of food production. 

“I come from a pretty low income town, Hillsville, Virginia,” she said. “It's a Title One school, meaning students receive free or reduced price lunches. And I was one of the students who received free lunches. A lot of kids today, when you ask them where their food comes from, they say the grocery store, but they don't know the work it takes to get to the grocery store.”

“So being able to teach kids the importance of their food and understanding the process by which it is produced, and to have them be a little bit more grateful when they go to the grocery store where they have numbers of fresh produce and vegetables and yummy food that they can just pick up and buy is one of the big things that inspires me,” she explained.

For Heflin, who specializes in family and consumer sciences, her passion for the field comes from a desire to help those who have fewer opportunities than her.

“Knowing that every student is not going to have those same opportunities as me, but knowing I can share my experiences and just give them a little taste of what the world has to offer… and providing them with these skills and this knowledge that they can use to go straight into a career once they graduate is just so fascinating to me,” she said.

Heflin hopes to one day work in  an administrator role in education. .

“A lot of my core values and beliefs about education stem from missed opportunities in the current education system,” Heflin added. “And so, being able to step into an administrator role with teacher experience is very important and very needed at all levels of administration.”

Wright graduated in December 2022 and currently teaches floriculture, vet science, small animal care, and horticulture at Christiansburg High School. Heflin graduated in May 2023, and has accepted a position at Thomas Harrison Middle School in Harrisonburg Virginia, where she will be teaching early childhood, nutrition, hospitality, and sewing.

For more information about how you can become an educator, or to support a Virginia Tech student teacher, visit the School of Education’s website (, or make a gift here

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