Psychology alum has spent her career working in special education
Makenzie Danis ’15
Academic dean and special education teacher, STEM Preparatory Academy (Nashville, Tenn.)
Makenzie Danis is an academic dean and special education teacher at STEM Preparatory Academy in Nashville, Tenn. Danis also has served as a special education teacher at Valor Collegiate Academies and MNPS, and served as a mentor teacher at Teach for America.
Some students may not realize that a psychology background is a great precursor to a career in education. What was it about majoring in psych that prepared you for your career?
Majoring in psychology is what led me to an interest in child development. When I was a student at Lafayette, I worked in the child developmental lab with Dr. Lauren Myers. That experience really sparked an interest for me in both education and research. My career has been entirely in schools. I spent four years teaching special education, and now I work as the dean of exceptional education for a charter school in South Nashville. The courses I took while at Lafayette inform my work each day, especially working with my middle schoolers.
When and how did you discover that you had a passion for working with children?
I have always been drawn to schools, but never really knew I wanted to go into education. My final year at Lafayette, I took an internship at Easton Area Academy (EAA). I worked under a school psychologist there, and was enthralled by the experience. That opportunity made me realize I wanted to go into a career working with children, specifically students with special education or behavioral needs.
How did your work as a special education teacher prepare you for your current role as academic dean at STEM Preparatory Academy? What inspired you to take a role at an institution focused on STEM fields?
My role now is primarily focused on teacher coaching and program development. I believe teaching special education in both a traditional public school and a charter school prior to taking on the role really helped me gain insight from a variety of perspectives. My inspiration to go to STEM Prep was largely based on the diversity of the school, and the opportunities the school provided for students who had just moved to the United States. Our first graduating class had 100% of students accepted to colleges and universities. I was so psyched!
You recently came back as a (virtual) guest speaker for Prof. Lauren Myers’ course during the fall semester. What did you personally take away from that experience?
Dr. Myers will always be someone I look up to, and shaped my life and path in tremendous ways. It was just exciting to be back in her class again, even as a guest speaker.
What advice would you offer to current psychology students about how they can apply what they are currently learning to their future careers?
Looking back to undergrad, I remember being super interested in so many topics while studying psychology, but not knowing the clear career path on how to pursue that interest. My advice would be that if you are currently passionate about something, keep pushing in that direction and the opportunities will come.