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Professor embraces diversity

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Even with all the emphasis in today’s society on embracing diversity, many of us don’t.

I pondered the question: Is there any profession or position in life that would not benefit from accepting and embracing diversity? I concluded that there is not.

No matter what our occupation, we must know how to successfully interact with others, including family members, each of whom is different from the others. This means accepting others for who they are.

Physicians must work with individuals who span the health spectrum and attempt to help all patients. People who work in “facilities” in organizations must be able to deal with

employees’ needs. Technicians in IT must have the “patience of Job” in dealing with individuals who are frustrated by their computers, monitors, speakers, etc., and are in need of immediate help.

A profession that absolutely requires an acceptance — if not an embrace — of diversity is the teaching profession. In order to reach any student, a teacher must learn the abilities and challenges that students bring to the classroom and meet the students at the level at which each is.

At Ivy Tech Community College Columbus, we are fortunate to have a professor of English who is the epitome of one who embraces diversity.

Erin Lehman, assistant professor of English and assistant chairwoman of the English program at Ivy Tech, is that person. One of the many reasons she was chosen recently for a prestigious teaching award is her ability to value students of all backgrounds. In her “Personal Statement of Teaching Philosophy,” she wrote:

“In 1963, the first Board of Trustees for Ivy Tech Community College cited ‘dignity’ as a goal for Ivy Tech classrooms. Board members wanted students to experience a sense of dignity in their work and pursuit of a post-high school credential.

Students enter my classes with a variety of goals, intents and stories. Embracing diversity is how I practice excellence in teaching at Ivy Tech Community College.”

Lehman expanded her knowledge of diverse cultures through Ivy Tech’s exchange with the Wuxi Professional College of Science and Technology in Wuxi, China. She hosted faculty members from Wuxi in Columbus and subsequently traveled to Wuxi to teach, learn and become exposed to Chinese culture. While there, the classes she taught continually grew in number and had to be held in larger and larger classrooms.

Embracing diversity, alone, does not equate to excellent teaching, of course. Although it is a vital factor, other qualities must be present. Lehman is truly a unique individual, since she possesses so many of the qualities of outstanding teachers — and outstanding people. She knows her subject matter well, teaches it thoroughly and has very high expectations of her class.

According to student and peer comments, she is understanding, patient, kind and enthusiastic and spends much time outside the classroom consulting with students. One of her students commented, “Just walking into her classroom was a positive learning experience. She lights up the room with her bubbly personality.”

Any student who has had Lehman as a teacher is fortunate, indeed.

Lynne Sullivan is the assistant director of marketing and communications for Ivy Tech Community College-Columbus.

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