Why They Chose Ave
By Maria Milstead
Professor Joy Bonnaig has only been teaching at Ave Maria University for a year, but already she can see how her decision to teach here has been a blessing. Although Professor Bonnaig feels that she has truly found her calling in life, that direction did not always seem so clear. Professor Bonnaig went to school for nursing and only took an education class because she needed another elective credit. Fortunately, that class opened up a whole other world to her and she found herself falling in love with the field. The next semester she changed her major, and believes it was the best thing she ever did. Fifteen years later, she has never second guessed her decision, and she still looks forward to going to work every morning. She says, “There is simply no other job where you walk in and have 20 kids loving you.”
Currently, Professor Bonnaig teaches an education class at Ave Maria University in the evening and spends the rest of her time overseeing the special education programs in the neighboring town of Immokalee. There, she assists the teachers and ensures each child is receiving the services and support that he or she deserves. When problems arise, teachers come to Professor Bonnaig and she sits in on classes to determine the best solutions. Professor Bonnaig loves her jobs at Ave and in Immokalee; however, she sees stark differences in working at Ave Maria versus in the public school system. One of these differences is the small class size. She loves the small number of students saying that there is no other way to really get to know all of your students. The main difference, however, is the freedom she has to express her faith while she is at work. She never tires of being able to pray with her students at Ave; in a way, it enables her to reach them on a whole other level. Having gone to a Christian college herself, Professor Bonnaig realizes that this kind of openness is not something to take for granted. “The Christian values that are embedded in this community are not something you can find anywhere else.” Professor Bonnaig appreciates the vibrant Catholic culture at Ave because she knows that professors have a huge impact on their students. Growing up, Professor Bonnaig attended public high school for a few years and lost her faith because of the environment. She says she is, “Glad [she] went through that because it makes [her] more grounded in [her] faith.” However, she appreciates that Ave provides a better way to become grounded in faith.
Professor Bonnaig found herself at Ave Maria because the university’s Education Department reached out to her principal in Immokalee looking for an education teacher to fill one class. Although she hadn’t previously considered teaching at the university level, Professor Bonnaig says that now she recognizes God’s hand at work because she truly feels that Ave is the place for her to be right now. Her motto is that she is teaching how to do things and takes a very “hands on” approach to her teaching. She firmly believes that as a teacher you have to make the material come alive for the students. When you’re able to do that, when you’re able to touch the life of at least one kid, everything becomes worth it. The best part about teaching teachers how to reach children is that she will be changing the lives of countless children across the world. She credits the community of Ave Maria for making all the difference in her life and in the education that the students here are receiving. “It’s the community, it’s what it used to be in the older days when towns were close-knit and smaller… we build a sense of community here at Ave, it’s a very different atmosphere, it’s like you’re home, these are your friends, these are your family.” Being a part of Ave’s community helps Professor Bonnaig know that she is helping a legacy to grow by inspiring her students to become teachers that can foster this kind of environment. “Making a difference in kids’ lives…training teachers…that’s my way of giving back to God.”
Hello there! My name is Maria Milstead and I am a senior at Ave Maria University. I am originally from Maryland but don’t mind the warmer weather! I am a psychology major with a family, gender, and society minor. I love cats, the Boston Red Sox, and the TV show Friends. However, I also love spending time on the various service projects Ave offers, playing intramural sports, and teaching Sunday school!