by Geoff Larcom, Published January 19, 2011
YPSILANTI - Eastern Michigan University graduate student Molly Funk, who became an elementary school principal at age 26, and whose scholarly research focuses on radical educational equity reform, has been awarded the University's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Humanitarian Award.
Funk, 33, of Canton, was among six honorees at Eastern's 25th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. President's luncheon Jan. 17. The awards went to people who exemplify the spirit and values of King.
Funk, a doctoral student in EMU's educational leadership program, won a $1,000 scholarship, and second-place winner Roshaun Harris will receive a $750 scholarship. The purpose of the award is to recognize an EMU student who has demonstrated a commitment to promoting respect and improving the quality of life of all people consistent with the ideas of King and demonstrated service to EMU and/or the southeastern Michigan community.
Funk is in her seventh year as an elementary school principal in the Wayne-Westland School District. She first served two years at Vandenberg Elementary in Wayne, then four years at Patchin Elementary School in Westland, Mich. This year, she is at Hamilton Elementary in Westland after district reconfiguration forced the closing of Patchin. Before becoming a principal, Funk taught first grade and served as a teacher in the Reading Recovery Program and as a professional development coach at Patchin.
She received her bachelor's degree in elementary education at Western Michigan in 1999, and her master's degree at Marygrove College in 2000. She also earned an educational specialist degree in education leadership from EMU.
Beth Johnson, a professor of teacher education at EMU, praised Funk's commitment to disenfranchised children, exemplified in her professional motto, "Hope is not a plan." Johnson noted how families in the district requested Funk be elevated to principal despite her relatively young age.
"(Funk) constantly creates opportunities for students by obtaining alternative resources and through intervention," Johnson said. "She is undeterred, first in meeting basic human needs for her students and their families, and then in creating mechanisms to find resources to help them not only survive, but thrive."
Said Funk of her award: "I, too, have a dream. That my four little children say (to me that) she not only had a hope for making a difference, but that she had a plan. I am humbled and honored to be recognized for continuing the legacy that Dr. King left."
Other MLK winners at EMU included:
* Nicole Carter, who is currently pursuing her doctorate in educational studies at EMU, and Crystal Collin, a masters student in public administration, shared the Evans-Strand Diversity Award, a $1,000 prize that recognizes an individual for significant contributions in advancing the cause of diversity at EMU. The award is modeled after the Nobel Peace Prize.
* Congressman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and EMU Ombudsman Gregory Peoples received MLK Humanitarian Honor Awards. The MLK Honor Awards recognize individuals from within the University and the local community who exemplify the values and ideas of Dr. King. Dingell, who voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and who faced "white backlash" from voters and his opponent, stood his ground and eventually was re-elected to Congress. "Much has been done. More must occur," said Dingell, upon receiving his award. "There is equity in voting and there are more job opportunities (for minorities). But full respect and equality for our fellow human beings is not a fact of life in our country."
* Joseph "Joe" Pollack, former director of EMU's Charter Schools, and Vernon Polite, former dean of EMU's College of Education, were honored posthumously with MLK Honor Awards.
* Winners of the MLK Essay Contest were Kayla Jones, a sophomore at Lincoln High School; and Leo Thornton, a freshman at Ypsilanti New Tech. Each received a $200 savings bond.