Students looking for a chance to make the world a better place straight out of college can learn more about Teach for America (TFA) at an orientation session tomorrow, before the final application deadline on Feb. 17.

The non-profit organization recruits graduating seniors from universities across the country to commit to a two-year teaching obligation in America’s lowest-income communities, said TFA instructor and 2005 UCSB graduate Jeremy Wickenheiser. Counseling & Career Services (C&CS) will host the meeting at 5:30 p.m. in the Workshop Room 1109.

Wickenheiser, who now teaches chemistry and physics at Edcouch-Elsa High School in rural Texas, said Teach for America seeks to eliminate educational inequality across the nation.

“Where I teach, by [age] nine, [children] are three grade levels behind in reading,” he said. “These kids are reading Sesame Street in fourth grade when they should be reading Harry Potter.”

Only about 17 percent of those who apply are selected, Wickenheiser said. TFA is highly selective because the job can be stressful, he said. Last year, 23 UCSB graduates were accepted into the program.

“It is an amazing amount of work to be an effective teacher,” Wickenheiser said. “It is so challenging [that] we have to get people that are really sure.”

Applicants are judged on their leadership, critical thinking, and organization skills, he said. The selection committee evaluates the application and holds a daylong interview with potential teachers, Wickenheiser said. At the interview, he said applicants work through different scenarios that could potentially arise during the two-year term.

After acceptance, the new teachers will go through a three-step training process before entering the classroom, Wickenheiser said. The first step, Induction, involves traveling to the region where the school is located and getting acquainted with the area. During this time, the new teachers will interview with principals and begin looking for a job. Afterwards, the new teachers will go to Institute, a summer-long training course.

The third step, Orientation, occurs right before the school year commences and involves a search for housing.

“Most people will have a job by the time the school year starts,” Wickenheiser said. “Teach for America does not leave you out in the cold.”

In terms of compensation, Wickenheiser said that in addition to being a paid employee of a school district, all qualifying student loans are deferred during the two-year period. The teachers also receive an additional grant between $4,500 and $5,000 for each year they teach, to be applied to an accredited university.

“There is this misconception that Teach for America is a volunteer organization,” Wickenheiser said. “I am a paid employee of my school district.”

Wickenheiser said the majority of the teachers involved with TFA become certified at the end of the two years. He said that many even get a master’s degree in education during that time.

TFA impacts both the faculty and the students at the schools where its members go to work, he said.

“A majority of the principals in the schools think we are out-performing their veteran teachers on staff,” Wickenheiser said. “The most important thing is engaging your students. A lot of the students feel like their other teachers don’t care about them. If you work hard for your students, they will work hard for you.”