Leah Shy, a Ph.D. student in the Educational Policy, Planning and Leadership – Curriculum Leadership program, received the Barbara M. Welch Graduate Fellowship in the spring of 2015.
The Barbara M. Welch Graduate Fellowship was established by her husband, Paul Welch, in memory of his wife, Barbara, in honor of her lifetime commitment to education and community service. In her letter to Mr. Welch, Leah describes her career path and the importance of receiving this award.
Leah’s journey as an educator began with teaching elementary school in California in 1999, but she used summer holidays to do short-term mission work in Osaka, Japan. After two years in this pattern, she decided to pause her elementary teaching career and worked full-time with a young church in Osaka, primarily helping to start and run an English language school. She had financial support for two years, after which time she decided to return to teaching children, but her heart was still in Japan. She began work at an international school in Kobe, Japan, teaching first grade to English-speaking children from all around the world who were living in the vibrant city.
She taught in Kobe for five years, during which time her leadership skills began to emerge. “Although I loved the Japanese people, I knew I needed a professional challenge and opportunity to develop as a leader, so I accepted a job at Hong Kong International School (a school of 26OO students) where I was able to teach second grade, while also earning my master’s degree in administration and complete a principal internship,” she said. Professionally, she was thriving, and yet felt that continuing to work in wealthy, private schools abroad was not personally fulfilling. She decided she could make more of an impact on children by working in the United States to help improve our system in order to give underserved and underprivileged students more support for success. She returned to her hometown of Williamsburg to further her education as she set off on this new path in education.
“Like many students, I would not have been able to pursue my doctorate without financial assistance. My husband and I made a leap of faith in leaving financially secure jobs in Hong Kong and transplanting our then two-year old to live the life of a graduate student's family for a few years because we believed it was a worthy goal. It is wonderful to know that there are people in our greater community who also believe in the worthiness of education and investing in others, as Ms. Welch did. I am a direct beneficiary of her vision and commitment to education, and of the generous love of her family and friends who continue to spread her care through their financial gifts.“
She is now looking ahead to future career goals and the coming years in school with optimism. In addition to her coursework, she has had the opportunity to serve as a research assistant for a project in Singapore, helped revise and edit a book, served as a teaching assistant for an elementary teacher preparation class, and worked as a copy editor for the student-run scholarly journal, the William & Mary Educational Review. “While I pursue a Ph.D. in Education Policy, Planning, & Leadership, with a concentration in Curriculum Leadership, I hope that the work I will be able to do will be a reflection of the many people who have invested in me along the way,” she said.
“I know I cannot fully explain the importance of the generosity I have received in honor of Ms. Welch, though I hope that in some way that the life and work of Ms. Welch are continuing. Being the recipient of this award is a reminder to me of how interconnected we are, and how much our mutual care and support of others impacts the world. I understand that Ms. Welch was very involved in both education and service to her community throughout her life, and even now to someone she has never met, her impact and involvement continues. For this, I am deeply humbled and grateful. Thank you for supporting her continued legacy here at William & Mary.”