With a mindset that nothing is impossible, Niger Rojas Serrano, Wittenberg University class of 2022, has achieved recognition as the first recipient of The Claudia E. and Charles F. Cornett Creative Teaching Merit Scholarship while balancing four demanding, full-time roles as student, employee, husband, and father.
A self-described perfectionist focused on achieving his goals, Rojas Serrano, a Spanish major with an education minor, impressed the scholarship committee with “his ability to embrace challenges, willingness to take risks, persistence and resilience when problem solving, and playfulness with words.”
Raised in Cachí: Paraíso in the Cartago province of Costa Rica, Rojas Serrano knew from a young age that he wanted to be bilingual in order “to communicate with the citizens of the world,” he said. While studying at a school that teaches English for business purposes, he began reading more about education and its ability to change the lives of others and decided to switch career paths.
“I started losing my interest in becoming a millionaire,” he said with a laugh.
“I wanted to do something more human,” he continued. “I like the atmosphere in the schools – little kids learning and being excited about something new. I also like being thoughtful about what is going on in the world and [correlating] the content in a subject to what is meaningful in life.”
Rojas Serrano moved to the United States in 2014 to be with his future wife, Meghan, a Springfield resident he met while she was vacationing in Costa Rica. Just shy of finishing his degree, he began the challenging task of transferring his university credits from Costa Rica – first to Clark State College, where he completed his general education requirements, and then to Wittenberg, where he expects to graduate in December.
At Wittenberg, he found abundant educational resources and support services, such as the Math Workshop and Writing Center, and faculty who are helpful and flexible. “I really have no words to thank Dr. Ruth Hoff for all the help and guidance she gave me through the process,” he said.
Rojas Serrano also appreciates that Wittenberg professors “don’t define how you teach,” he said. “They let you decide your methodology. They give you options. There are different ways to approach a concept or theory.”
Creative thinking is the defining characteristic of The Claudia E. and Charles F. Cornett Creative Teaching Merit Scholarship. As lifelong educators, Claudia, professor emeritus of education, and Charles, retired superintendent of Clark County Schools, view “out-of-the-box” thinking as the core of effective problem solving and central to excellent teaching.
Rojas Serrano said he was surprised to receive the award and “very honored to meet Dr. Claudia Cornett and hear about her experiences as a teacher at Wittenberg and how she understands education should be.”
In an interview with the Cornetts, Rojas Serrano said that he believes anyone can learn to be more creative.
“It’s teachable,” he said. “It’s how artists, scientists, engineers, mathematicians, writers, and teachers solve problems. People show their creativity when they take risks, are persistent, and not afraid of others’ opinions. When I have a problem, I think about causes and resources for solving the problem, like other people, experts, and information on the Internet. Then I experiment and figure out the best ideas.”
That work ethic and persistence have helped Rojas Serrano find success while managing multiple responsibilities. Now married and the father of a three-year-old son, he has worked full-time as a server at Casa del Sabor while carrying a full course load. In the fall, he will student teach alongside two Spanish teachers at Urbana High School as he completes his degree requirements and prepares for a career teaching Spanish.
“It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?” he asked with a smile. “It’s a lot, but I’m at the end of the journey. I’m happy right now. I’m living the dream right now.”