The Mario and Alma Pastega Award for Excellence in Scholarship honors a full-time faculty member who demonstrates outstanding creative or scholarly accomplishments. Once nominees are received, the Honors Committee votes by secret ballot on whether there will be a recipient that year, and if so, who the recipient will be.
The bookshelves, tables and chairs in Interim Director of Clinical Practice & Licensure Marie LeJeune’s offce are piled high with books—children’s books, young adult lit and many others. Her collection has engulfed other bookshelves in the education building as well. But one would expect nothing less from the professor, who specializes in literacy and who is this year’s winner of the Pastega Excellence in Scholarship Award. Her ever-expanding library is all in the name of education.
“You can’t be a teacher of reading if you’re not a reader, too,” she said. “You can’t motivate kids to read if you don’t know amazing books to match them with.”
LeJeune, a Washington native, has been a lifelong language and writing enthusiast. She earned her undergraduate degree in English and journalism at Gonzaga University. She liked working with teens, so she got a masters in teaching and served as a high school language arts teacher in Washington and Nevada, specializing in literacy. But it was rough going sometimes.
“I was teaching ninth grade, and I had a bunch of kids who either couldn’t or wouldn’t read,” she recalls. “I didn’t really know what to do to help them or motivate them. I decided I wanted to become a reading specialist, so I went to graduate school for that. While I was there, a professor encouraged me to think about getting a doctorate. I got a Ph.D. while still teaching full time. I sometimes call myself ‘The Accidental Professor.’ ”
By the time she joined the faculty at WOU in 2007, she had a husband and three children. Since then, she has added another family member and donned many hats at WOU, including responsibilities such as coordinating the undergraduate teacher education program and teaching literacy methods to all education majors who want to teach middle or high school language arts.
“I think there can be a sort of a stereotype that elementary educators love kids while secondary teachers love their content and they want to teach it to young people,” she said. “I tell them that it doesn’t really matter what age the students are, you always just have to think about students first.”
LeJeune suspects she was honored with the excellence in scholarship award because of the large body of literacy research and writing she has conducted over the years. She has a book in the works in collaboration with another WOU faculty member. She serves on national book awards panels such as the Orbis Pictus committee (excellence in non fiction children’s literature) and the Amelia Walden (literature for adolescents) committee.
She estimates she reads several hundred books per year, which is a good thing because she co-teaches a book discussion group every week at an alternative high school in Corvallis. “It reminds me why I do what I do,” she said.
Education is a research profession, LeJeune believes, so she plans to continue doing the work and discovering how to apply what she learns to a classroom setting. All of the books piled in her offce help her teach WOU students to turn dormant readers into active readers.
LeJeune strives to instill a love of reading into students of all ages, and she’s proud of the work WOU does to support that effort.
“Working at Western, especially in my division, is very inspirational,” she said. “People here are very dedicated to what they do and supporting future teachers or current teachers who come back for graduate programs. I’m really proud of the reputation Western has for teacher education. When I tell people I work at Western they say ‘Oh, that’s a great place to become a teacher.’ And it’s true.”