RTC faculty earn top honors for exceptional teaching

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It doesn’t take long to discover that Alma Meza and Michele Lesmeister are driven by a lifelong passion for education. Their exceptional teaching and dedication to student success has earned them top recognition. For Alma, the Faculty Award from the Washington State Association of College Trustees and for Michele, the 2018 Ahead of the Class teacher award sponsored by the Renton Chamber of Commerce and Renton School District.

“The more we discover about Alma, the more we are delighted by her innovative methods, creative strategies, sensitivity to cultural awareness and diverse learning styles, unflagging work ethic, and genuine concern and affection for her students,” Board Chair Susan Palmer wrote in her letter nominating Meza.

Since Meza joined the full-time Basic Studies faculty at RTC three years ago, she has become a beloved teacher and valued member of the community where has been instrumental in developing the College’s bilingual High School 21 program to help English language learners earn their diplomas.

Alma first discovered her love of teaching when she volunteered to tutor classmates in her home country of Mexico. “I just love teaching, because you can really make a difference,” Meza said.

Meza serves as a lead faculty member for a grant through Achieving the Dream (AtD), which focuses on better supporting adjunct faculty and helping more students of color transition from basic studies to STEM fields. She helped plan the STEM*E Summit at RTC, and was one of the presenters at the 2018 Achieving the Dream Conference in February, showcasing RTC’s Strategic Plan strategies for inclusive planning and assessment.

Michele Lesmeister grew up reading library books by the light of a kerosene lamp.

From anybody else, that could be a statement about a childhood of hardship. Not so for Michele, who remembers it fondly and credits it with shaping her career as a teacher and a literacy advocate. “Poverty gives you a sense of the value of what you do with your time and energy,” she said.

That lesson is evident in Michele’s career at Renton Technical College. During her 27 years teaching Adult Basic Education, she has put RTC on the national map with her work in adult literacy.  As a textbook author and lecturer, Michele works with WestEd and other institutions on the Reading Apprenticeship programs. She has developed highly acclaimed teaching techniques and spearheaded successful conferences designed to teach teachers how to make reading both a social and personal experience for students to help them perform better in class.

For all her contributions, she was named one of the top five teachers in the 2018 Ahead of the Class honors sponsored by the Renton Chamber of Commerce and Renton School District.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from Washington State University, Michele’s love of language led her to study Mandarin in Taiwan. The island was still under military rule at the time, with very limited freedoms. She remembers rules that barred any gathering larger than four people and other forms of intimidation. When street riots broke out over the United States acceptance of the One-China policy, Michele left Taiwan for six months, returning to the island to teach English and hone her Chinese for several more years.

After her time in Taiwan, Michele moved to Tucson, completing a master’s degree in ESL education at the University of Arizona before starting her teaching career at RTC in 1990.

 “The main thing that keeps me here is the freedom to teach what I want to teach,” she said. Michele is also moved and motivated by the mix of students at RTC, many of whom come from humble backgrounds too. “I feel this institution has positioned itself to be a college that accepts diversity in many forms and embraces it,” she said. 

To honor her mother's legacy, Michele and her family established the Thresa Jane Smart-Benjamin Scholarship to support women students in their transition from Basic Studies to career training – a vital step toward greater independence and family-wage jobs. Nine women receive awards of $1,000 during the academic year through the RTC Foundation.

“My mom was of the belief that if you educate a woman, you educate a community,” she said.

If you are interested in creating a scholarship to honor a family member or loved one, please contact RTC Foundation Executive Director, Carrie Shaw, at cshaw@rtc.edu

Photo of Michele Lesmeister holding her 2018 Ahead of the Class trophy.

Michele Lesmeister, RTC Basic Studies faculty member, is all smiles as the 2018 Ahead of the Class awardee.