Jacob Mulligan: Aspiring teacher and coach gains leadership experience at UMaine

During his senior year at Noble High School in North Berwick, Maine, Jacob Mulligan was a teaching assistant with the school’s health and physical education department. Although he had thought about becoming a teacher previously, that experience and a conversation with his head football coach and P.E. teacher made him realize that was the career path he wanted to pursue. 

“My coach said, ‘Why don’t you become a P.E. teacher? You love it and you love coaching, you’re passionate about it,” Mulligan recalls. “And I thought, you know what, you’re right.”

Today, Mulligan is a junior majoring in kinesiology and physical education (KPE) with a concentration in teaching and coaching in the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development. 

Despite being a full-time student, he still finds time to volunteer with his old high school football team, working with defensive backs and wide receivers and helping the coaching staff break down film. He also helps coach the Noble wrestling team. In addition, he’s gained valuable experience as a substitute teacher at schools in North Berwick and nearby Dover, New Hampshire. 

“Last year, I subbed every Monday and Friday back home and did as much coaching as I could fit into my schedule. My whole thing is I just want to make a positive impact on as many kids as I can,” he says.

After having the first couple years of college disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mulligan says this year has felt like what he imagined college would be like. He currently serves as president of the Physical Education Student Organization (PESO). The group held a fundraiser for KPE students to attend the Maine Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (MAPHERD) annual conference. PESO members also do community service projects, like a clothing drive that brought in several bags of children’s clothes that were donated to the Old Town-Orono YMCA.

“They were so appreciative and said they would take more clothes, so we decided to keep the clothing drive going,” Mulligan says. “It’s great to give back to the community and feel like you’re helping make people’s lives better.”

In addition to substitute teaching, Mulligan has done field experiences in K–12 classrooms In Bangor and Old Town. He’ll do his final student teaching placement in the fall. UMaine has relationships with schools across the state, allowing him to do his placement in southern Maine, where he’ll be able to coach football at Noble full-time as well. 

“Physical education and physical activity are so important to both physical and mental health, and I’m really grateful to have had so many experiences in the KPE program here at UMaine that have prepared me to be a teacher and coach,” Mulligan says. 

Why UMaine?
I was looking at a few different colleges and I toured UMaine in February of my senior year of high school. The last place we stopped was Lengyel Hall and the School of Kinesiology, Physical Education and Athletic Training. I went there and immediately it felt like home. So, even though UMaine was a little bigger than some of the other schools I looked at, that KPE building and the people there, it’s such a tight-knit community. It was just awesome.

How would you describe the academic atmosphere at UMaine?
The biggest thing is that within the KPE program, there are so many opportunities to be hands-on and get into schools, rather than just reading from a book. It’s really helped prepare me to be a teacher and coach.

What’s the most interesting, engaging or helpful class you’ve taken at UMaine?
All of the methods of teaching PE classes have been super helpful in terms of how you can reach different learners, because different students have different learning styles and as a teacher you have to be able to adapt. Plus, those classes are great in terms of learning about classroom organization and creating lesson plans, understanding that if something doesn’t work it’s OK to move on and have a backup plan. KPE 367: Adapted Physical Education is incredibly important, because it teaches you how to work with students who have disabilities.  

How has UMaine helped prepare you for your post-graduation goals?
After I graduate, I’ll be certified to teach at both the elementary (grades K–6) and secondary (grades 7–12) levels, and I’ll be certified to teach both PE and health. That’s a big thing that UMaine will have helped me with, because it will make me more desirable to schools that are hiring. Also, just the networking, the opportunities to meet teachers and make connections. 

Have you worked closely with a mentor, professor or role model who has made your UMaine experience better? If so, who and how?
Everybody in the School of Kinesiology, Physical Education and Athletic Training: Jesse Kaye-Schiess, Jen McNulty, Shannan Fotter, Doc Lehnhard, Lauren Jacobs, Alicia Lacy, Shannon Wright, Chris Nightingale. They’re all amazing. They’re all so down-to-Earth, they know all the students by name, and they’ve all helped me out in so many ways.

Have you had an experience at UMaine — either academically or socially — that has changed or shaped the way you see the world?
Just being in schools and seeing the different situations that students face in their lives has been eye-opening for me. A lot of kids face really tough situations growing up. That wasn’t my experience, so having the opportunity to see it in my field placements or when I’m subbing at different schools has helped me become a better teacher and coach.

What is your most memorable UMaine moment?
Going to MAPHERD with a lot of the KPE students and professors. We went for three days, so getting to be part of this community of PE and health teachers in Maine, networking and everything was so cool.

Contact: Casey Kelly, casey.kelly@maine.edu