Transformational educator – Campus Connection

Transformational educator – Campus Connection

Posted 7:04 a.m. Monday, July 4, 2022

Mary Lee Vance, ’79 & ’83, is the recipient of the 2022 Burt and Norma Altman Teacher Education Award. The award is particularly meaningful because Burt was one of her mentors during her time at UWL.

Vance used personal relationship with award’s founder to find success

Editor’s note: This is the fourth of five articles introducing recipients of the UWL Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Awards. See all 2022 award recipients.

Mary Lee Vance remembers her first day as Professor Burt Altman graduate assistant.

Nervous about returning to her alma mater for a master’s program after a negative experience in a different program, Vance was intimidated when she was assigned to work for the well-known teacher education professor.

After an initial hiccup because Vance didn’t have a bachelor’s degree in education, she was determined to be the best assistant he had ever had.

She succeeded. In September, Vance will receive the university’s top alumni educator award named for Altman: the Burt and Norma Altman Teacher Education Alumni Award.

Vance had plenty of opportunities to learn under Altman. As part of her grad assistantship duties, she would teach sections of his human relations classes. Even though she was an introvert, Vance grew to develop the comfort and skills necessary to teach and present, with guidance from Altman — tools she would use throughout her career.

Altman mentored Vance out of the classroom, too, providing social networking tips. Vance recalls being invited to his house for a cocktail party and initially not wanting to attend. Eventually agreeing to do so, she expanded her comfort zone.

Altman and his wife, Norma, eased her jitters. Teacher Education Professor Kent Koppelman and his wife, Jan, also made Vance feel at ease in social situations where Vance developed additional vital networking skills.

“All four made a deep impression on me and were highly instrumental in my ability to be as successful as I have been in my higher education career,” says Vance. “Were it not for the support they provided me, their belief in my abilities, their reinforcement and their friendships I might never have completed my graduate program.”

Over the years, Vance’s passion for removing educational barriers for people of color and individuals with disabilities has grown and continues to inspire others.

“Few individuals have put more time and energy into figuring out how to remove the barriers set before these individuals,” says Paul Grossman, retired chief civil rights attorney with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights in San Francisco. 

Vance is also known for her efforts supporting international adoption.

“Mary Lee has been an inspiration to adoptees over the years and is a respected and influential leader in the adoptee community, as well as the broader Korean community, both nationally and internationally,” says Holt International Vice President Susan Soonkeum Cox.

Burt and Norma Altman Teacher Education Award

Honors and recognizes outstanding educators and the significant contributions they make to children and communities. Professor Emeritus Burt Altman and his wife, Norma, long-time supporters of teacher education, created the award in 2015.

Mary Lee Vance, ’79 & ’83

  • Transformational educator, leader, writer, presenter and editor of four books and numerous research articles, passion for removing educational barriers for people of color and individuals with disabilities.
  • Office of Equal Opportunity Interim Director and Services for Students with Disabilities Director, California State University Sacramento; previous student services and adjunct faculty positions at Orange Coast College, University of California Berkeley, Purdue University-Calumet, University of Montana, UW-Superior, George Mason University and Iowa State University.
  • 2007 UWL Parker Distinguished Multicultural Alumni Award; 2012 Association on Higher Education and Disability Professional Recognition Award; others.
  • Bachelor’s in art, 1979; Master’s of Education-Professional Development, 1983; doctorate, Michigan State University, 1993.

Nominate deserving alumni

Nominate deserving UWL alumni for the university’s distinguished alumni awards. Simply fill out the nomination form; the Alumni Office will contact nominees.

Nominations are accepted throughout the year. They must be received by Oct. 1 to be considered for the award the following year.

See all past recipients .

Here are the award criteria.

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