Rebecca Pu

My Education

Columbia University

MA | Early Childhood Education

Hong Kong Baptist University

BA | Sociology

State University of New York - Albany

BA | Sociology


PathFinders Limited, Hong Kong

Programme Manager

The Children's Learning Center, New York

Assistant Teacher

Rebecca is an M.A. candidate in Early Childhood Education at Columbia University. With a cross-cultural background in China, Hong Kong and Albany, New York, Rebecca holds a B.A. with honours in Sociology and graduated from Hong Kong Baptist University with the highest GPA in the Class of 2015. Prior to Columbia, she worked as an Education Programme Manager for an NGO where she advocated for at-risk immigrant children. Her experiences in child development, immigrant reintegration, project management and volunteer training earned her admissions to Columbia, along with offers from New York University, University of Southern California, and Tufts University ($20,000 scholarship). Rebecca is talented in Pipa and has 3 years experience in a professional Chinese orchestra.

Q:  Why are you passionate about your academic field? When and how did you discover your love of your subject?  

I have witnessed a young boy's positive change in his early development by receiving the special education and counselling services. The 4-year-old boy was collecting sharp pens and staplers when he first came into my office and refused to stop handling them when I knew it was not safe. His screaming pushed me away when I offered help. Although the boy exhibited behavioural tendencies that were on the autism spectrum, his mother could do little because of her immigration, financial and educational background. We immediately referred him to a professional who was able to provide free services. After 3 months of development training sessions, the boy showed amazing improvement. Fueled by a passion for empowering these underprivileged families through early childhood education, I decided to pursue systematic training in this field.

Q:  What are your three top recommendations for a student targeting a masters in your field? What if they are preparing to switch their major to your field?  

1. If possible, observe or assist in a preschool or kindergarten to get a sense of "being an early childhood teacher". Practical experiences and reflections are crucial in this field, both for your application and for your future academic success.

2. Think about your past experience - not necessarily teaching related - and list out the key reflections you've had and how that is going to support your future studies in this field.  

3. Ask yourself WHY. Why am I interested in early childhood education? Why do I want to switch my major? Why are the courses attractive to me? Why is working/studying in early childhood education so important to me that I am willing to go through all the process to make it happen? By digging into these questions you will have a clear self-awareness, a feasible future plan, and above all, a deep understanding of your connection to this field.

Q:  What resources can students use to educate themselves on your subject?  

Do a Google search! What it is about early childhood education? What does it look like to be an early childhood teacher? What qualities does an early childhood teacher have? What is the job market like in this field? Clear your mind on the general concepts will help you find out if you are really into it.

Ask an expert! Your professor will be an ideal resource who may lead you to other professionals in the field. Talk to them and get their insights. But also keep in mind that personal experiences are just for reference. You need to think independently and critically.

Check out the school official website! Course information, professors' research, career options, graduates can find them all there. They will inform your decision making when you filter out what to keep in your writings.

Q:  What are your top tips to showcase an applicant  

Be authentic. Admission Officers can tell from your writing if you are genuinely into your program, if you have a clear plan upon completion of the program, and if you are reliable for your own decisions. 

Your reflections on experiences matter, and connect them to the program you are looking at. Showing your strengths is not about bragging yourself but about telling your story in a way that speaks for who you are. 

Q:  Any pitfalls or mistakes an applicant should be aware of as they apply to your program?  

Make sure you are applying to the right program! There are technically 4 programs in Early Childhood Education field at Columbia: Early Childhood Education (non-certification), Early Childhood Education (initial certification), Early Childhood Special Education (initial certification), and Early Childhood General and Special Education (dual certification). The admission requirements may vary and there are major differences in course credits and workload. It also impacts on your career options when it comes to the certification. So make sure you have carefully studied the program website.

Q:  Why did you apply to your university and program? What other universities and programs were you admitted to?  

I was looking at 3 factors when narrowing down my school list and Columbia stood out to me for the following reasons:

1. Reputation, which in a way reflects it's quality.

2. Location. New York is an ideal city to apply my coursework in the field as it contains vast racial and international diversity.

3. Integration of theory and practice. The program offers practicum and student teaching experiences which enables students to learn from practice. Students will be well prepared for obtaining a teacher certification and be ready for service upon completion of the program.

I was also admitted to M.A. in Early Childhood Education/Special Education dual-certification program at New York University (exactly the same as the one in TC), M.S. in Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of Southern California, M.A. in Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University, and M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at George Washington University.

Q:  What are the common career paths for graduates in your field?  
The Early Childhood Education Initial Certification Program at Columbia and similar programs in other graduate schools prepare pre-service teachers for a smooth transition into the education field. Graduates who have met the requirements to obtain a teacher's certification is qualified to work at public schools in the State where they have earned their certification. Private sectors, NGOs, other educational institutions are some other common options for graduates who would like to set foot in curriculum development, teaching, childcare, and family support.  
Q:  What aspects of the campus culture are your favorites? Which aspects surprised you? Which would you change if you could?  

On every poster, school publications, shuttle bus stops, signages...there are reminders of disability support services and how to request it. The Columbia campus is really working hard to promote equity and equal access to all information, resources, facilities, etc.

Another aspect of the campus culture that surprised me was the extraordinary emphasis on mental health. The free access to counselling services just sends everybody a message that "The school has got your back. Come talk to me anytime." which is very supportive.

Q:  What is your favorite fun fact about your university? Any special events or traditions or legends?  

There will be an annual Thanksgiving Dinner exclusive for Teachers College students!

Q:  How did you spend your summer vacation during university? Any advice for making the most of summer?  

I was involved in a community service summer programme in my junior year which offered me the opportunities to work with professors in the Education Department and a dozen of secondary school students to design and deliver creative and interactive service programmes for some senior citizens in Hong Kong. This experience was meaningful for my personal growth and later application in the sense that I demonstrated my heart to serve the community, my understanding of working with students, my leadership skills and my role as a good team player, which was all highly valued in a competitive applicant and helped me to stand out. As a bonus to the experience, it also connected me tightly with the Director of Education Department who was willing to write me a recommendation letter, which matters when I made it to the education field without any direct teaching experience. I joined the programme out of my pure interest in exploring myself and society but it turned out all interrelated and beneficial to my application.

I would suggest getting into something that really arouses your interests, either in the academic field or in the practical world. It could be a summer school, a community programme, an internship, a summer job. What matters is your reflection on the experience and how that speaks to you. 

Q:  What makes you smile? Share more on a favorite hobby.  

I play the Pipa, a traditional Chinese musical instrument. I was in a Chinese orchestra for 3 years and there, I enjoyed the harmonious melody created by various instruments. I've brought it to TC and it's been a perfect go-to activity during my breaks from the intense schoolwork. It also brings me performance opportunities in NYC and connects me with some new friends who love music too. 

Q:  Why are you excited to mentor Dyad Scholars?  

I was a Dyad Scholar who received tremendous support from Dyad Mentors. They helped me to realize my passion, to discover my potential, and to plan for my career path. Now I want to extend the support to other Dyad Scholars and to share both my experiences in the application process and the life at Columbia. I hope some insider information will pave the way for you to get into your dream school!