Made for Teaching

by Kimberly B.W. Denu, Ph.D., MSW

Tolulope “Tolu” Noah ’04, Ed.D., knew she wanted to be a teacher ever since the fourth grade. She fondly recalls playing school with her sisters and friends and being thrilled one Christmas when her parents bought her a chalkboard easel. As she grew, so did her passion, and she began volunteering as a tutor. Working with kids brought her joy. Despite some family pressure to pursue a career that would result in a large paycheck, she knew teaching was the only option that made her feel like she was doing what she was created to do.

The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Tolu displayed a strong work ethic and excelled in school. Her efforts earned her acceptance to 10 respected universities. Tolu wanted to study in an environment where she would form meaningful connections with professors who would challenge her, develop her, push her toward her dreams. Her choice became clear—Azusa Pacific. And when she stepped onto APU’s campus, she felt at home, sensing the strong community and impressed by the commitment to a Christ-centered education.

After convincing her father that APU was the best place for her, Tolu thrived and her passion for teaching grew. As an undergraduate, she flourished alongside professor-mentors such as Paul Flores, Ph.D., Mark Arvidson, Ph.D., Sean Rochelle, Ed.D, and me, and she felt cared for as a person, not just as a student. We challenged her personally and academically, encouraged her professionally, and truly believed that she would one day be an amazing teacher and world changer.

In addition to fostering her growth as an emerging scholar, I considered it a privilege to mentor her in my student discipleship group. Each week, Tolu and two other women met at my house, where we prayed for and encouraged one another and discussed Scripture. I learned something from those students every week. I was humbled when Tolu shared over coffee that she still draws inspiration from those days. “It meant so much to me that you invested in me not only as an aspiring teacher, but as a maturing Christ follower. And you generously opened up your home to us,” Tolu said. “I appreciated how real and authentic you were, sharing your own journey and what Christ had been teaching you. It was encouraging to see a strong woman of color like you, grounded in your faith in God and excelling in your roles at APU.”

Since Tolu graduated from APU, she’s focused her energy on reaching kids through teaching. She became a full-time educator at just 20, launching her career in an inner-city school in Watts through the Teach for America program, training other teachers, filling various leadership roles, and earning the Teacher of the Year award.

Caring deeply about students and wanting to develop future teachers who would impact them, she earned her Doctor of Education from USC and became an assistant professor in the Department of Liberal Studies at APU in 2013. Although her professor-mentors are now her colleagues, the dynamics of that established, trusted relationship remain. “The constant encouragement and support I received from my APU mentors stayed with me long after I graduated,” Tolu said. “In fact, they motivated me to go back to school so that I could one day become a professor and invest in future teachers’ lives the way they had in me. I hope that I can foster the same types of relationships with my students now that I am a professor.”

Mission accomplished. Tolu not only pours her heart and soul into her work and her students, but she also applies the same concept to the world beyond as a community group leader at her church, continually impacting the lives of others. As one of her professor-mentor-colleague-friends, I’d like to think that somehow I played a small part in that.

Kimberly B.W. Denu, Ph.D., MSW, is a professor in the Department of Global Studies, Sociology, and TESOL, and special advisor to the president and provost. [email protected]

Originally published in the Summer '15 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.