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In How to Lead Teachers to Become Great Pilcher and Largue describe “great” teachers and educators as:

… The ones who work tirelessly to help students learn, grow, and achieve… the ones who never give up.

Today I am thinking about this more than ever because a friend and former colleague was admitted to Hospice care yesterday as she nears the end of her battle with colon cancer. She is the mother of a 1 ½ year old boy, a wife, daughter, sister, sister-in-law, and friend; she is a chemist (analytical), an author, scholar, professor, educator, and mentor; a Star Wars and Spartans fanatic, and a fan of all sports. As I list these things that she “is” to me and others, I think she would probably not favor a list of descriptors as it is “limiting” and that’s something I never experienced her do in her life, with her time or with people.

I am also reminded of an article I co-authored many years ago about mentoring in academe; the article cited a column from The Chronicle of Higher Education where the author discussed the blurred line of determining what is a “personal” versus “professional” phone call for reimbursement. At some point, the author posits, the two become indistinguishable; this is certainly something I experienced first as a student, then as a teacher, faculty member, and administrator. As evidenced by a 2-day old Facebook group with over 320 members it is something my friend and former colleague experienced, too, as many students and colleagues contribute their stories of “Why (she) Rocks!!…” Below are some of the student posts providing description of her as a great teacher, mentor, and so much more:

… She cares more about her students than just a name on a paper. Her smile and friendliness is contagious and her determination and positive demeanor is something that inspires me and many of my friends…

I remember the first time I met (her). It was my first semester… I wanted to join the chemistry club, SAACS, and decided to go to one of the meetings. I sat in the back of the meeting and I remember turning to the girl next to me to ask more about the club. She proceeded to tell me about how awesome chemistry was, what exactly the club did, and how I should definitely join. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I learned this super friendly, down-to-earth, approachable girl was actually (her) one of the chemistry professors…

…The most important lessons I have learned stem from watching her powerhouse work ethic combined with the most humble, altruistic attitude. She touches the lives of everyone around her showing us how to love what you do and who you are with…

… She got a CS nerd like me to learn a little chemistry and made it fun!!!

… She is more than a teacher and advisor… I have always relied on her for the best advice about every aspect of my life. She encouraged me to set and reach goals I never thought possible.

… She always goes above and beyond to help you with a paper, letter of recommendation, or anything else you need, even though she may have a busy schedule…

… She is a great role model and shows me and her other students that it is possible to have a career, husband, and family… She is an excellent female role model in science. AMAZING. INSPIRATION.

… She was able to turn a solidly anti chemistry person like me into someone who can and does appreciate chemistry. NO ONE but (her) could’ve done that! And because she did that for me years ago, I am now able to encourage my students who struggle with chemistry to keep pushing, striving, and chasing understanding no matter what.

… Without her I wouldn’t have graduated from [school], let alone be in grad school right now.

… She shines and she makes others around her shine as well.

… She is super hilarious, an awesome teacher and mentor… She takes chances even when others wouldn’t agree, and sees potential in students that couldn’t see it in themselves.

… She takes chances on people and believes in them when they don’t even believe in themselves.

She takes students to ACS meetings and never fails to spend time with [her undergraduate institution’s] crowd while there! And speaking of ACS, she and her students gave 10 presentations (posters and talks) at the March 2012 national meeting. 10!!!!! Wow.

… She takes us all farther than we ever thought we could go.

… She takes students on and makes them go out of their comfort level to show them their true potential. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her…

And some posts from some of her colleagues:

She rocks because she is one of the most passionate people I know, and gives 100% to whatever she’s doing. It is truly a pleasure to work with her, no matter the committee or topic, and she always brings an incredible positive energy to the room, and always has a genuine smile and “hello” to share when I see her on campus…

She rocks because she is always, always there for me!

She rocks because she is never too busy to support students!

She rocks because she accepts and supports people as they are.

She rocks because she always has put others first and gives 100% to her family, friends and students. What a special woman – my hero!

There’s that smile that will melt through anything; that selfless devotion to others and endless generosity; and that courageous, heroic, graceful way she confronts adversity.

She’s a role model for role models. Certainly an inspiration for me…

She rocks because despite all her awesome accomplishments at work and elsewhere, she has always been a modest and humble person and a very good friend.

She rocks because she helps with tasks, big life issues and life issues that are just fun. I mentioned a parade and she pipes up “I’ll go”! So off we went…

She rocks because she is the role model everyone should follow to have a well-rounded career at an undergraduate institution…

She rocks because she has touched so many lives, and made all of us better people…

She rocks because she has a huge amount of energy that she shares with others so that they feel the same excitement, whether it is about chemistry, SOAR, or anything else she touches.

Because she makes everyone else around her look awesome.

…And she shows why a being a scientist is the highest aspiration.

She rocks because she affects so many people in a profoundly positive way…just read this page!

The posts describe how this great educator connects with students—engaging them in the content, building their excitement about learning the content, challenging and supporting them—an additional post describes this as helping to “keep the wonder and enthusiasm for science intact for so many people.” Great educators do this.

The posts also describe how this great educator connects with students and colleagues, and through the connection, makes them better people. A post (by her Mom) describes this connection (with students) as always trying “to teach her students to enjoy other aspects of life by taking them to (pro baseball) games, (university) events, rock concerts, picnics at her home, ice skating, and much more. She wanted them to be scientists, but not ‘science nerds.’” Great educators and leaders do this—make those around them better people—my former colleague exemplifies this. I appreciate the opportunity to celebrate her life, her commitment to students and colleagues, and to STEM education as a great educator and leader… and so much more.

 

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