Edgar Salmingo had a degree in computer engineering and a job as a "genius administrator" at Apple when he decided to pursue a career that he would find more fulfilling. "I wanted to have more of a direct effect in changing lives than I could by fixing computers," he says.
Salmingo learned about PLACE Corps (Partners in Los Angeles Catholic Education), a nationally recognized teacher service program of the LMU School of Education that enables candidates to earn a debt-free master's degree and credential while serving as full-time teachers in under-resourced Catholic schools of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. A product of Catholic schools, Salmingo liked the idea of giving back. "I know the value of Catholic education and wanted to inspire people the way I was inspired," he says.
Four years later, Salmingo is inspiring not only students, but also his fellow teachers at St. Anthony High School in Long Beach. In addition to teaching math and science – including two AP courses – he chairs the math department and guides the school's academic decathlon team, which last year placed first in its division of the Southern California Private Schools Competition despite being the smallest school to compete. Salmingo spearheaded an effort to revamp the school's math and science curriculum, including the establishment of a partnership with the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific that enables St. Anthony students to apply skills they learn in the classroom as interns at the aquarium. Last year, the online Long Beach Post selected Salmingo as one of Long Beach's top 10 teachers.
Salmingo is one of nearly 150 young people who have gone through PLACE Corps since it was established at LMU in 2001. The PLACE Corps meets an important need of the Los Angeles Archdiocese by preparing highly qualified, motivated and faith-filled teachers who will perpetuate the tradition of Catholic education and provide their students – many of whom are among the poorest in the archdiocese – with positive Catholic role models. This year more than 50 schools have either current PLACE Corps members, PLACE Corps alumni or both. More than half of PLACE Corps graduates remain in their under-resourced school beyond the two-year commitment.
The program is built on three pillars: professional development, community and spirituality. In addition to taking the courses and gaining the classroom experience required of any new teacher, "PLACErs" live with other members of their cohort during their two-year commitment while exploring and strengthening their spirituality alone and with the group.
Entering its 10th anniversary year, the PLACE Corps is enjoying national recognition. This year, applications came in from 75 universities covering 25 states. The selection process is rigorous and highly competitive, allowing the program to choose unusually bright and dedicated individuals such as Salmingo.
"These teachers are bringing an incredible level of energy to their schools," says Diana Murphy, PLACE Corps director. "They want to coach, do the liturgies, help with the yearbook, put on plays where they've never been done before. They're starting SAT prep classes and teaching the first AP courses in certain subjects. They're bringing in ideas and trying new things. Over and over again we hear from principals that they are raising the bar at their schools."
When Salmingo witnesses the effect he has been able to have on his students, it's a reminder that he settled on the right career path. "They're much more confident now," he says. "They can see a future that they might not have considered if others were selling them short. I feel very fortunate and fulfilled to be able to inspire them in that way."