Laura Lees, Ed.M.'01, is wondering what to say next.
Luckily for her students at Maui Community College, Laura Lees' wordlessness does not extend to the classroom. In fact, Lees, Ed.M.'01, considers one of the best parts of her position as an instructor in writing and English literature to be when "students shed their fears about writing and find their voices," she says. Lees' commitment to her students and her profession was rewarded recently when she was honored with the University of Hawaii's Regents' Medal for Excellence in Teaching, an award for which she was nominated by her colleagues and students.
Although she is the daughter of educators, Lees' path to teaching was not a straight one. After her first year at Amherst College in Massachusetts, she found herself struggling with what a college education really means. "I knew one needed to go to college, but I wasn't sure why I needed to go to college," she remembers. "I tried multiple majors -- toyed with art history and thought about political science, all because I thought I should." Lees ended up taking a semester off and headed to Hawaii with her then-boyfriend, now-fiancÃ©. "That's when I realized why I needed to go back to college," she says. "College is different for everyone -- some have a specific career in mind, others need to explore the act of learning to discover their future. I was excited to learn when I read novels, analyzed poetry, and wrote. Once I dove into the joy of learning, I really appreciated the luxury of higher education."
After graduation, Lees returned to Hawaii where she discovered that her favorite among the many jobs she tried was substitute teaching in the public schools. "I loved being in the classroom," she says. "This is where I discovered my passion for teaching and decided to learn more about education and teaching, not only English literature. So I applied to HGSE." Shortly after finishing her master's, Lees was offered a position at Maui Community College.
Lees truly enjoys the challenges that come with teaching the diverse, community college student body. "It's one of the parts of teaching I love the most," she says. "Working with students from all backgrounds, ages, cultures, academic motivations, and experiences means I have to find multiple modes of teaching and make time for individual learning."
And she's thrilled that she gets to do it in her adopted home of Hawaii, not just because of her fulfillment at work. "I stayed [in Hawaii] because of the people, the ocean, and the life I found here," she says. "I must admit I also love surfing."