After changing his career focus from medicine to education, Ethan Ake is now pursuing a doctoral degree, with the support of a local scholarship program.
Ake was among several local recipients of the 2016 GlaxoSmithKline Opportunity Scholarship, awarded earlier this summer.
The openly gay high-school teacher is currently working on his Ph.D. in education with a concentration in urban education at Temple University.
Ake was born in Chicago and grew up in Edison, N.Y.
Ake had a strained relationship with his father, tension that increased after his mother died of a brain aneurism his senior year of high school. In accordance with his father’s wishes, Ake started medical school but dropped out after accepting that it was not his passion.
“At the time, I felt like I was living two different lives on many planes.” Ake said. “A life at home, a life at school, I was living a double life with my own sexuality. I was living an academic double life where it was what I wanted to be versus who I should be or who my parents wanted me to be.”
He began tutoring at the Charter High School for Architecture and Design and found his passion for teaching. He later accepted a position as a substitute teacher and eventually took a full-time job teaching science. Ake said he became interested in education policy and administration, which drove him to work for his Ph.D.
He said he remains motivated to continue his own schooling in part thanks to his partner, who is also a teacher.
“One of the things that I always told my students was that it’s hard to imagine that things change because you’re always looking through your life in the lens of the present, but there are opportunities that come along that you don’t expect,” Ake said. “There are people out there that are willing to make a positive impact on your life if you’re willing to let them. You don’t know what life has in store for you. It’s just amazing how quickly life turns if you’re open to the opportunities and you’re open to people helping you make those changes.”
Stacey Ake was one of the people who changed his life.
He encountered the professor during his freshman year of college and they quickly hit it off.
“She became a mentor and a confidant for me. And she was the one who actually encouraged me to be more open and aware of my feelings, and she was the one who eventually encouraged me to come out,” Ake said. “Over the years our relationship grew stronger and stronger and as I started moving further and further away from my father, she became sort of like a surrogate mother to me.”
Ake left medical school in 2007, and became estranged from his father. He fell back on his relationship with Stacey, who came up with the idea of an adult adoption.
“The idea was that I could formally become her son,” Ake said. “It was a symbolic as well as a sort of practical move: The symbolic part obviously because it was emotional; it was like gaining a new mother. And the practical part was because we had started to share so much of our lives, she didn’t have any children of her own and she was married, and so it became sort of the next step in our relationship.”
Stacey adopted Ake in 2010, and he changed his name to Ethan Stacey Ake.
“Having a strong connection with my adopted mother made all the difference for me to develop emotionally and deal with challenges,” he said.
Ake said he wants to have the same impact on his students that Stacey had on hers.
Once he completes his Ph.D. program, he said, he’ll consider a number of career paths.
“I’m thinking about either going into administration, being a principal and going down that track, being a teacher of teachers so to speak, or going into university life,” he said. “There’s a lot of options out there and I’m playing it by ear. But, I’m pretty optimistic about what the future holds.”