Allison Speicher’s English professors are clearly proud of her. In addition to touting the fact that she’s the only female student in the senior class with a perfect 4.0 GPA, they’ll also tell you that she scored a perfect 800 on the verbal section of her GRE and in the 96th percentile when she took the GRE English literature subject test.

Her scores, remarkable in their own right, are even more impressive when her professors tell you they had to convince Speicher to even apply to graduate school in the first place.

Speicher, who grew up in Queens, New York, always wanted to be a teacher. It’s not possible to major solely in education in Virginia institutions of higher education. College students must choose another academic discipline and can minor in education. So when Speicher came to Richmond, she made plans to major in English and minor in education.

The education minor is a 34-credit endeavor; students in the program are quick to tell you that the minor actually requires more credit hours than some majors. Speicher took her first education class her very first semester at Richmond and never looked back.

Her freshman year, Speicher also applied to participate in a four-year women’s leadership program run through Richmond’s Westhampton College called WILL, which stands for Women Involved in Living and Learning.

“Being a part of WILL was the best decision I ever made. You don’t study women’s issues in high school. In addition to meeting some of my closest friends through WILL, I’ve worked with some of the most brilliant women I’ve ever met,” Speicher said.

WILL requires all participants to take part in programs and take courses in the women, gender and sexuality studies curriculum. All students take a first-year colloquim and a senior seminar. In between her education coursework and her English classes, Speicher became sold on adding a second major in women, gender and sexuality studies—giving her the perfect lens through which to study English literature as well as get the most out of her WILL experience.

During her junior year, Speicher studied abroad in Bristol, England. She took two English classes—one on Shakespeare and one on Dickens—and in her words, “visited every place Dickens so much as sneezed in,” but she found herself missing the academic rigor of Richmond.

“Studying abroad was a great experience overall. I’d never been to Europe and was able to see Paris, Prague, Brussels and Barcelona, not to mention practically everywhere in England and Wales. But for me, having come from Richmond, the academics weren’t what I expected,” said Speicher.

The experience was a wake up call. Speicher realized she loved the academic rigor she received in her English classes at Richmond and worried that she might lose that when she entered the classroom as a high school teacher.

But back at Richmond, she began her student teaching experience at Highland Spring High School in Henrico County and loved it.

“I love working with students one on one. I’ve got more experience in American literature but I’m teaching British literature, which is fun, especially given my time abroad. Right now, we’re reading The Canterbury Tales. The Wife of Bath is a little scandalous so it’s a lot of fun to do it with high schoolers,” Speicher said.

At the same time that the classroom is pulling Speicher in one direction, research is pulling her in another. Her senior thesis brings together her work in English and women, gender and sexuality studies by examining interconnections between Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Ellen Glasgow’s The Sheltered Life.

“Ellen Glasgow takes Louisa May Alcott’s characters and reworks them in a 1930s southern setting; how she does it says a lot about how Glasgow sees women’s identities in the south.”

As for now, Speicher is soaking up her time at Highland Spring High School and sending off graduate school applications to some of the top literature Ph.D. programs in the country.

“I can’t say I’ll never teach high school. But for now, I’ll see where things go. I’m counting on six to eight years in graduate school to study women’s literature and make a decision. If I want to teach at the collegiate level, I’ve got a strong education background which will only make me a better teacher,” said Speicher.