WOU is a college like all the rest—professors and students paid and paying for the sake of education. What a lot of people don’t realize is the extra behind the scenes work professors do for the school, students, and community. There are some fascinating, shining stars that don’t get the opportunity to be recognized. One such individual that I wish to uncover is Cindy Ryan.
In the basement of the education building resides Ryan’s office, a cozy, comforting, inviting environment where I was able to sit down and have a lovely conversation about who this great woman is and what she does for the community.
Ryan, who has been here working in Oregon since July 2011, says “I love it. I really do enjoy it here. It’s such a nice campus. You can cross the street, and people stop for you and it just seems like everyone cares for each other and are invested. I believe faculty really want what’s best for the students and for each other. You don’t find that everywhere.”
Having come from Minnesota, Oregon and WOU was a place a bit warmer and a new opportunity to do what she loves. Her background is in early childhood and special education. It’s her passion and love: “I just knew that was the road I was headed down by the time I was 11 or 12 years old. You certainly don’t go into early childhood to make money. I fully believe we have the possibility to make positive changes in our world, and I kept thinking how do I move forward and make changes. Teachers are amazing. It’s phenomenal work and I’d never trade my time spent as an early childhood teacher. It’s just such important work.” When I asked her what she wanted to do as a young child, she responded with a laugh that she’d wanted to be a Disney animator. However, as she grew older, she knew that she wanted to be a teacher and that her passion was in early childhood/special education.
After 18 years dedicated to changing the world in the young children of this world, she decided it was time for another challenge—she wanted to do more and move forward. She had obtained her master’s degree in early childhood and special education and then braved going after her doctorate. As she worked toward that final goal, she was offered an opportunity to teach at the university level. She describes the experience as one where she “just absolutely fell in love. I was teaching there and absolutely loved it because I was still able to get into classrooms and supervise teachers, still got to go on home visits with folks doing their special ed piece. So it was to me the best of both worlds. Still teaching, and still in the field I love and I still get to go into classrooms and do a lot of collaborative community work.”
This idea of community is very critically important to Ryan. She absolutely loves “building relationships with the students, and with faculty, with the community.” She described an excellent field trip she went on with her students in her education classes to Chemeketa Community College to participate in their early childhood center and students studying there. She loved the comfortable, goofy, yet academic atmosphere they were all able to share. “People are so willing to and able to talk to each other and kind of wrap you up in that community. Then everyone feels it and everyone believes in it and it becomes that. And I think as we model that, then that’s what our students (from an ed perspective) will take out and have in their classroom too.”
As coordinator for the early childhood education program, she has several projects taking place. Ryanexcitedly talked about Project PIECE: “Project PIECE—Promoting Inclusion in Early Childhood Educators. We got a million dollar grant last fall and so that is something that’s really taken some time and some work but what we’re doing is recruiting nontraditional students that have their associate’s degree to come in to get their early childhood teaching license and get their early intervention special education endorsement. We help with funding for them and a lot of mentoring and a lot of support. Most of them are working part time, so they come in and we have classes in the evenings, weekends, and hybrid courses. So then they’ll be out as licensed teachers when they’re done. It’s really exciting!”
The other big project that Ryan is very excited about is “an Early Childhood Summer Inclusion Institute coming up this summer that we are in the midst of planning for and have a website for and everything. So that’s a big thing that’s happening this year. It’s the first annual one—brand new. We’re hoping to pull in at least 200 people this first conference. They have the option of staying on campus, stay in the dorms if they want. It’s going to be really fun!” She also plans a lot of smaller projects around campus and the community. Just a few weeks ago she had arranged to have a large group of kindergarteners come to WOU and explore the campus and spend time with some of the education students. A number of people worked together on the planning of this project, which was a great experience for both the children and the education students. She really has a great philosophy for having and building community.
Ryan’s involvement with her students and community is a fabulous model for all professors and students to look up to. Community building and involvement is important for any and all interests. Building social connections fosters others and your own emotional growth. It’s inspiring to hear about such passionate people. It’s important to be passionate about what you do and it’s refreshing to see Cindy Ryan be such a gem to our community here in Monmouth.