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WCU Stories

Marianne Leek Alumna of the Month

Marianne Leek on a hike


Q.) Marianne, when did you graduate from WCU and in what subject area?

A.)  I graduated with a bachelor's degree in English Secondary Education in 1991. I graduated with my master's degree in teaching English in 2001.

Q.)  What are some of your fondest memories of your days at WCU? 

A.)  Some of my fondest memories at WCU include simple things like living in Scott residence hall, hanging out in the UC between classes, walking across campus in the fall...  However, In the fall of 1989, I had the opportunity to go to London for several weeks as part of a study abroad program through the English department. I remember working to save up money to take that trip. It was something I always wanted to do.


Q.)  Who were your favorite professors/staff at Western Carolina and why?

A.)  Pretty much everyone in the English department was amazing to me. One of my first professors was Dr. Higgins and he was such a kind person. I was in his American literature course. I remember taking a test and not knowing the answer to one of the essay questions. I decided to make up my own question about the material and answer it. He gave me credit for my answer and from that day on we were friends. This simple act influenced the way I taught. Maybe it's not that students haven't learned, maybe we just simply haven't asked the right questions. Learning isn't about memorizing material. Dr. Nicholl was another professor who took the time to know and help the students in his class. As a graduate student, Dr. Mary Warner influenced how I taught English. She was creative and passionate about teaching. However, she also maintained high expectations for all her students. I didn't always appreciate those high expectations. At the time. I was commuting from Hayesville and had two children under two years old, but in hindsight she challenged me and made me both a better student and teacher.

I have tremendous respect for many of the current faculty members in the English department. I admire the work that both Dr. Catherine Carter and Dr. Michael Boatright do with aspiring English educators. Ron Rash has been a tremendous inspiration to both me and my students. He's just such a kind and genuine human being. I wish I had had the opportunity to be in his class when I was coming through WCU.


Q.)  Marianne, you enjoyed a very distinguished and successful career as a school teacher (2006 NC West Region Teacher of the Year!) before retiring last October. Tell us a little about your career path and how you got there.   

A.)  Teaching and learning comes down to relationships. When we build relationships with students and encourage them to build relationships with each other we foster a classroom climate of kindness, compassion, and inclusivity. It's so important that every student in a teacher's classroom feels that they are valued - that their individual story matters. The best teachers are really coaches at heart. They encourage, they support, they challenge, they push, they care deeply about what is going on in the lives of their students. I decided to become a teacher because I had a teacher who cared about what was happening in my life and inspired me to be a better student and human being. Once I was a teacher, I had a principal who supported and encouraged me, as well as fellow teachers who inspired and mentored me. Our responsibility is always to help and support others - that is what being human is all about.


Q.)  You often brought your Hayesville High School English class to campus to meet two of WCU’s most distinguished faculty members—best-selling authors Ron Rash and David Joy.  What did that experience mean to your students?

A.)  Those are two of the finest human beings I know. I think people can learn a lot from the way they live their lives and treat others. Both David and Ron are humble, kind, and compassionate. They are generous with their time and they recognize the importance of giving back to their communities. They also understand the potential they have to influence young readers, writers, and thinkers. I think one of the goals of education is to equip people to read, think, and discern for themselves. David and Ron are both geniuses at getting people to think deeply about things that matter.  My students have repeatedly expressed that the opportunities they had to just sit and talk to both Rash and Joy are some of their favorite high school memories. What an incredible gift we were given to be able to discuss literature, writing, and life with them on more than one occasion.


Q.)  Marianne, you are a former member of WCU’s Alumni Association Board of Directors and were involved with WCU’s Teachers of Tomorrow. Why do you think it’s important for WCU alumni to stay connected and involved with their university? 

A.)  I am honored that I had the opportunity to participate on the Alumni Board for so many years. Teachers of Tomorrow Day is an incredible opportunity for students to learn more about the profession and to be inspired by fellow educators. WCU is historically a teacher education college, so being part of influencing young people to pursue an education career and encouraging them to attend WCU is something I am particularly proud to have been a part of.  I am grateful for my time at WCU and the education I received there.


Q.) Now tell us something unique and interesting about yourself that few people may know. 

A.)  I'm happiest when I am on top of a mountain. I love to hike. I love a challenging trail and being outdoors. One of the things on my bucket list is to eventually visit every national park. Also, I love going to antique stores and looking for old typewriters, cameras, books, and classic albums.  I'm not sure how interesting that is and most people who know me know that already.

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