Natyra Prater finds such joy and fulfillment in her vocation as a teacher that it’s hard to imagine her in any other career field.

But teaching almost wasn’t her reality. Prater might have pursued a career in telesales were it not for Concordia’s Project Invest, a degree program that aims to increase the number of skilled teachers—particularly diverse teachers—in urban schools, where quality teachers are in demand. Project Invest honors the experience aides bring to the table by truncating their pathway to a bachelor’s degree/teacher licensure.

Without the program, Prater says she wouldn’t be in the classroom today.

“I love my students and their families,” Prater said. “They know that when I teach, it’s from the heart. But you have to jump through so many hoops to get your teaching certification. Honestly, if it weren’t for Project Invest, I wouldn’t have been able to get my degree.”

‘Life happened’

Prater has had her sights set on teaching for some time. Following her high school graduation, she enrolled in college and even earned 60 credits toward the goal. Several factors ultimately distracted her from the pursuit, however: the allure of a more lucrative career in telesales, an abusive relationship, and dried up financial aid opportunities, to name a few.

“So many things were happening in my life that it was harder and harder each time to go back to school,” Prater said. “I had exhausted all of my federal loans and all of my aid opportunities by the time I got to Milwaukee College Prep.”

Still the pull to the classroom persisted. In 2015, she began work as an educational aide (EA) at Milwaukee College Prep, a network of K4-8 charter schools in Milwaukee. She thoroughly enjoyed the work, but without the ability to advance in the field and ultimately oversee her own classroom one day, Prater said she wouldn’t have lasted.

In 2017, Concordia formed Project Invest, giving Prater an opportunity to step into her own classroom. Prater started the program the same year it launched, and two years later, she crossed Concordia’s commencement stage. Today, she is a lead 5th grade teacher.

Increasing the number of diverse teachers

Project Invest is primarily designed to get qualified teachers into the classroom, but an ancillary goal is to increase the number of diverse teachers.

A total of 32 aides are currently enrolled in Project Invest, and the bulk of those aides are diverse.

Nationally, roughly 80 percent of the teaching force is white, even though research suggests that diverse and white students alike perform better academically when they have at least one teacher of color.

Prater knows the value of diverse teachers because she herself felt the void throughout her educational experience.

“I was that little black girl in class who was searching for a teacher who looked like me,” Prater said. “That representation matters because you don’t have to question the genuine care and life lessons that I bring to the classroom because of it. My students know that at any given moment, I’m an advocate for them.”

Learn more about Project Invest here.

— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at or 262-243-2149.

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