KAHULUI - Maui Community College English instructor Laura Lees has been selected for the Regents' Medal for Excellence in Teaching.
The award recognizes faculty "who exhibit an extraordinary level of subject mastery and scholarship, teaching effectiveness and creativity, and personal values beneficial to students."
Lees, 33, is one of 13 educators in the University of Hawaii system who will be honored for their achievements in a ceremony scheduled for Sept. 15 at the Kennedy Theatre on the UH Manoa campus.
MCC English instructor
Lees' career at MCC started in 2001, when she served as a lecturer. She had earned a bachelor's degree in English literature and French literature from Amherst College in 1998, and followed that with a master's degree in education, specializing in English, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Lees said she often tells her students about her decision to drop out of college for a year. At the time, she said, she wasn't
sure about her future so she quit school and moved to Maui with her boyfriend, Luke Nagle, who recently became her fiance.
'She believes that all students have strengths and talents, and her role is to provide the guidance in facilitating and accentuating those traits to achieve success, both personally and professionally.'
- University of Hawaii, in announcement of Laura Lees' selection for honor
After working food service jobs on Maui, Lees said, she realized that was hard and that she really should get back to college. She returned to Amherst and completed her studies, still not knowing for sure what she would do for a career.
"I knew I loved reading. I just thrived with it," Lees said, adding that a decision to add a major in English literature kept the possibility open that she might teach one day.
Her first job out of graduate school was to serve as a substitute teacher for the state Department of Education on Maui. She learned in that short stint that she enjoyed teaching. "That's when I said this is what I want to do," she said.
The adopted daughter of history professors Andrew Lees of Rutgers University and Lynn Lees of the University of Pennsylvania now immerses herself in sharing her love of literature and writing with Maui students.Regents' Medal
She's challenged with a wide range of students, from those who are working to complete transfer requirements to get to another university to those who are seeking new careers.
Whatever path her students take, Lees said, she keeps them mindful that reading and writing is all part of the thinking process. She tries to free them of writing blocks by giving them assignments that are relevant, such as interview essays on a topic they don't know about or need to learn more about, or writing and demonstrating a how-two, such as cooking or dancing.
"There's no right way to do it," Lees said she tells her students.
With an average class size of 20 students, Lees assigns both group and individual writing projects to students. She said that often her students tell her they don't know what or how to write, and she encourages them by telling them that "they have full lives. Each student has a closet full of opinions, ideas and experiences."
In announcing her recognition, a university news release said Lees excels with students with developmental needs and finds both innovative and effective strategies to help them be successful in her class and in their overall college experience. "She believes that all students have strengths and talents, and her role is to provide the guidance in facilitating and accentuating those traits to achieve success, both personally and professionally."
Lees said she's thankful for colleagues who have mentored her in her career at Maui Community College. She's working on earning tenure status at the school.
"My English department is full of amazing people who have supported and guided me since my first day," Lees said. "Part of the campus culture is encouragement to continuously try new ways to teach and help our students succeed - from weaving community service into curriculum to team teaching math and English for fresh approaches to student learning."
* Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at claudine @mauinews.com.