In the Footsteps of the Brothers

What makes a teacher a Lasallian educator? And what can lay teachers learn from the Brothers and their founder?

For Rebecca Proehl, the answer to those questions emerged through her journey at Saint Mary's and through two very literal journeys—to Rome and to the U.S.–Mexico border.

Proehl, who is the 2012-13 SMC Professor of the Year, came to the College's School of Education in 1992 from JFK University, where she was dean of the School of Management. Steeped in adult learning theory, she had a clear-cut vision of her adult students as "self-directed learners who knew what they wanted to learn and how to do so." Her role was simple: she would impart knowledge and they would take it in and apply it.

That idea began to change slowly as she learned about the College's mission and traditions, but it was utterly transformed after two life-changing experiences offered through SMC's Office of Mission.

One was the Lasallian University Leadership program in Rome, where she joined educators from Lasallian schools around the world in a two-week intensive study of De La Salle's life. What moved her most was the realization that he had consciously rejected the usual term "master" when he chose the term "brother" for his first teachers.

She realized that she, too, could be a brother—or a sister—to her students. "I am fond of the image of being like a big sister to my students," she said. "It requires a deeper relationship and a deeper commitment to them."

Big Sister: In Anapra, Mexico, children can stay in school because of Rebecca Proehl’s work.

The other experience was the Lasallian Social Justice Institute, a weeklong immersion in El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. In one neighborhood called Anapra, she met a woman named Christina Estrada, who works to make sure children stay in school, despite the hardships they and their families endure. Inspired by her work, Proehl founded the Anapra Education Project, which has raised $300,000 to pay for fees, uniforms, shoes and books for the children of Anapra.

The border immersion experience, she said, "helped me recognize the power of offering educational experiences that educate the mind but also touch the heart."

Fueled by that inspiration, Proehl and her KSOE colleagues revamped SMC's doctorate in education program to incorporate community-based research and service-learning projects that benefit schools, organizations and students in need.

"I want my students to be touched by their educational journey, inspired to be advocates for social justice, and willing to be risk-takers for innovation," she said.

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