Mary Lee Gardner Gwizdala Endowed Scholarship
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About Mary Lee Gardner Gwizdala
This scholarship honors Mary Lee Gardner Gwizdala, graduate of the College of Education of Michigan State University, past President of the College of Education Alumni Association and educator.
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A Love Affair with Teaching
Michigan State University has held a special place in my heart since I attended as an undergraduate from 1956-1960. After placing sixth in my high school graduating class, I was awarded an MSU scholarship. The scholarship provided much needed funding and attending MSU positively directed the course of my life.
As a wide-eyed freshman who had come from Trenton, a small Michigan community of 8,000, I found MSU exciting and challenging. I selected Fine Arts as a major as a means to study art, literature, music, Spanish and the social sciences. The course catalogue provided a veritable smorgasbord for a hungry learner.
Yet, as my junior year began, and I still had no clue as to which direction to take, my father drive to East Lansing, sat me down and said, “You are going to get your education degree.” I obeyed him and crammed all those education courses and student teaching at Red Cedar into my last two years. It was the best forced decision that could ever have been made.
Somehow, I always knew that I would be a teacher. Perhaps it is in my DNA, for my grandfather taught in a one room schoolhouse. My Aunt Irene was the first Head Start teacher in Detroit and was named the Outstanding Teacher of the Year. My Aunt Eva was my first grade teacher and upon my graduating from MSU I was hired to replace her and take over her classroom, as she was retiring. The amazing aspect was the principal phoned me to ask if I would like to have the classroom. All this with no transcripts sent or interviews!
That began my love affair with teaching. From 1956 to the present my commitment to quality education has never wavered. Because of the outstanding preparation in fine arts and education courses, my career has been varied, interesting and one of growth. No matter where we had lived, something from my MSU educational background fit the bill. Whether it was teaching elementary school in Michigan, Oklahoma and Arkansas, or teaching Spanish to blind adults at the college level, I have enjoyed every student. I have taught every grade level except third grade and I was fortunate to have spent most of the last 17 years of my career at Detroit County Day teaching English and Speech from sixth through twelfth grades.
This teaching love affair continues to flourish from the past to the present. Whether it was coaching, directing drama, teaching summer writing workshops, guiding and writing speech courses, teaching SAT and LSAT preparation, preparing and teaching courses as diversified as South American Literature, Asian Literature, Science Fiction, Modern American Literature and Women’s Literature; these provided me with constant growth and learning in the educational field. From testing, tutoring and remediating both in the school setting and in the community on a volunteer basis, I have found each year challenging and exciting.
Yet, the most important aspect was not the subject matter. It was the students, whether first graders, honor students, inner-city children or Mexican migrant children. My philosophy has never changed. I have tried to challenge and guide students to discover the joy of learning through the educational process of DISCOVERY. There is nothing more exciting than to see the “light bulb” glow as the student “sees” what the mind can do.
Another aspect of my life which has utilized my educational background is serving on boards that have expanded my horizons and provided outlets for leadership. I served five years on the Bloomfield Township Library Friends Board, ending as president and served seven years on the MSU College of Education Board in various positions, ending as president in 1991-1992. I served on the Oakland University Alumni Association Board and continue to serve on the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital Women’s Board of Directors. I have been actively involved with educational and civic boards since 1960 no matter where we have lived, for I have always believed in giving something back to the community.
I very rarely look back for each new day is to be enjoyed providing additional experiences and possibilities for learning. During the winter months I test and remediate at a Florida elementary school and serve as judge at regional oratory contests. I do count myself blessed for I am in a profession that I loved and continue to love.
Yet, my love affair with teaching grew with the outstanding support of my husband. His encouragement and respect for my career commitment enabled me to search fro excellence. By my husband establishing the Mary Lee Gardner Gwizdala Scholarship, he is helping a student in need, as I was. Hopefully, that student will go on to love teaching as much as I. As my husband has said so many times, “I wish I could be half as excited as you are about a job.” But, that is the crux of this writing. Teaching was never a job. It WAS a love affair.