The creation of the Erica M. Halpern Teacher Leadership Award was announced Nov. 28 at Halpern’s memorial service in Behrakis Grand Hall.
The award will be given out annually at the Drexel Goodwin School of Education Honors Day to a teacher candidate who emulates the attributes that Halpern exhibited in her community service program, according to Sarah Ulrich, director of teacher certification programs at the Goodwin School of Education.
Halpern was a sophomore double majoring in psychology and teacher education. She wanted to work with special needs children after college and volunteered with them on several occasions.
“It is my hope that as we move forward with our wonderful memories of Erica, that her passion, her enthusiasm, her dedication will be an inspiration to us all. Not only to us that will serve in classrooms but to all of us in our daily lives,” Ulrich said.
Halpern’s parents, David and Jacque Halpern, announced a memorial fund that will start at Drexel in their daughter’s honor. Mr. Halpern also seeks to put a physical memorial for his daughter on Drexel’s campus.
“The warmth that every one of you have shown to me and my family is unbelievable. It’s really clear why Erica loved this place the way that she did,” Mr. Halpern said.
“Erica’s memory and her love for this campus will go on forever,” he added.
Bill Lynch, dean of Goodwin College, said, “While every tragedy is painful, we in Goodwin pledge that the light that she cast on our program, on the inspiration that she had for the career that she anticipated, was one that we think lies in every education major, certainly was within Erica. And we plan to enrich our college as a result of that. We believe this is an inspiration, a story worth telling, a story worth repeating.”
“The loss of a student is no doubt the hardest moment that any university has to face. Erica was only a sophomore. Everything she had put her mind to, she did. And her promise was so enormous and her trajectory great, and we are therefore really diminished as a university without her,” President John A. Fry said at the memorial.
Dean of Students David Ruth was in the hospital when Halpern died.
“I sat with Mrs. Halpern, and she held Erica’s hand, watching her slowly drift away, and I couldn’t help but question, ‘Why is this happening? How could this happen to such a bright shining star at 19 years old with such a bright future ahead of her?’” Ruth said.
Ruth spoke about the strength of Drexel’s networks of students and faculty and how valuable these networks are for support in times of crisis.
“I was so proud of how our students came out en masse to support Erica and her family through this entire situation: at the hospital, in the residence hall, at the funeral service,” Ruth said.
“She volunteered, she committed, she gave herself to others because as she said, she wanted to make a difference. Everybody wants to make a difference, but she actually did it by behaving in a different way,” Ludo Scheffer, director of the Undergraduate Studies psychology program at Drexel, said at the service.
He added, “If you jumble the letters of the name Erica it actually says, ‘I care,’ and hence, she was naturally born to be a caring, life-altering person. We should follow in her footsteps and hopefully be as brave and courageous as she was.”
According to Scheffer, Halpern was already well known by Drexel faculty and staff despite only being a sophomore.
According to David Appleton, Halpern’s undergraduate adviser for the School of Education, he knew Erica well because she visited his office often and was serious about her studies. She was learning sign language, working to get into the bachelor’s-master’s program and was in the process of getting certified to teach special education.
However, Appleton explained that there was more to Halpern than her desire to do well in school.
“Erica had an amazing way of making me laugh, as I am sure she did with all of you,” Appleton said.
“As an adviser, one of the things I notice about my students is that each one is unique and develops his or her own trademarks,” Appleton said. “One of Erica’s trademarks was that she never made an appointment to come and see me,”
“In fact, at one of our last meetings, she popped into my office, tossed her bag into the empty chair and plopped down next to me. She stared at me with this big smile and said, ‘Isn’t it funny how I never make any appointments to come see you?’ We both laughed. But that was Erica, funny, witty, kind, appreciative of the opportunities that life had granted her. And a strong will to look at the world filled with injustice and believe that she could make it better,” he added.
The ceremony ended with a moment of silence for Halpern and a reception where students and staff shared memories of her.
“Today, we who have gathered knew Erica in different ways,” Rabbi Isabel De Konnick said. “She was our child, our sister. She was our student, our teacher, our classmate, our roommate, our friend and our companion. She was all of these and more. She was Erica: unique, talented, creative and beautiful in life. We come together so we may acknowledge the loss in our hearts and so we may honor Erica’s memory and so that we may support and comfort each other as we search for a future without Erica by our side.”