Madelyn Lilliston-Trinwith

Madelyn Lilliston-Trinwith
Photo by David Schmitz

President’s Scholar

Major: Child Adolescent Development (Teach Prep-Mult)
Connie L. Lurie College of Education

Why did you choose your major?

I originally did not want to pursue a job in education, as my dad was a teacher and my mom was an elementary school secretary. As a teenager the idea of “becoming my parents” was not ideal. The build up to deciding to major in Child and Adolescent Development is a long story, but at the core of it, I found myself unable to resist my deep interest in the subject. I love learning about how children learn, and the contexts in which they do so. After years of refusing to even consider the idea of becoming a teacher I decided to leave my job as a full time waitress and became an assistant teacher at a preschool while enrolled in early child developmental classes to earn my permit to be a lead teacher. Early into this job I knew teaching was what I wanted to do. I feel very lucky to have had such a positive educational experience beginning in my preschool years, I hope to be a part of creating these kind of experiences for my future students. As being an effective teacher goes beyond just knowing what to teach, my ChAD classes have been exceptionally valuable in preparing me for my future.  

What does receiving this particular award mean to you?

Since I was a child I have struggled with high anxiety. While some of this anxiety is helpful in contributing to me being a conscientious student, it has also stopped me from taking risks, especially in school out of fear that I lack the ability or the tenacity. I had to overcome this fear in order to transfer to SJSU. I don’t often accept my times of accomplishment, only focusing on the ways I could have done better. Receiving the President’s Honor gives me this chance to reflect on the challenges I have had to address in order to meet my goals.

Who has had the greatest influence or impact on your life?  In addition, tell us about a SJSU faculty member who contributed to your academic success.

I believe that my success as a student is reflective of the dedication on behalf of many of my professors at SJSU. I would like to mention two professors that I feel have been particularly impactful; Dr. John Jabagchourian and Dr. Ellen Middaugh. Both have pushed me to evaluate content and present information through an academic lens. This has made me a much more successful student in all of my classes. I have also felt their passion in the courses they teach. Both John and Ellen provide the support and expectation for students to succeed in the class. By success I mean a comprehensive understanding of the material; beyond memorization. I had Dr. Middaugh in my first semester as a transfer at SJSU. I felt respected as a student and welcomed to asking questions.  John provides opportunities in every class for us to discuss the material, clarify misunderstandings, and make our own meaning within the material or apply it in a real-world situation.  

Describe an experience that has shaped who you are today.

My experiences in elementary school have continued to influence me. My teachers gave us a lot of freedom to pursue our interests and cultivate creativity. This provided me a foundation and eagerness to learn. I do not attribute my academic success to a desire to receive good grades or to just get through, but rather my purpose is to learn. Through my early education I also began to appreciate that knowledge isn’t something we tuck away only to be tested on, but to be applied.

What would you say to other students to encourage or inspire them to attain academic excellence?

I believe being an engaged learner has been an important factor in my academic achievements. Being an active participant forces me to pay attention, and helps me to remember the content of the class. Coming to class isn’t for the professor’s benefit, it is for the student and you might as well make the most of the time you are there.

What makes you a Spartan?

San Jose State plays an important role within the community I have grown up in, and one that I hope to soon teach in. As a student at San Jose State I have come to see the many beneficial ways in which my fellow Spartans are contributing to the world around them in a positive way. Our SJSU education is not only for ourselves but serves to enrich our community, whether it be environmental and sustainability initiatives, social activism, or volunteering in a school.  This is what being a San Jose State Spartan means to me. 


Nominated by John Jabagchourian
Professor, Child and Adolescent Development

“Madelyn is a genius of a student.  Understands complexities of ideas.  Leader of the pack in the courses I've had her in.”