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WIU Alumna Awarded Iowa Teacher of the Year

May 25, 2022

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MACOMB/MOLINE, IL – Western Illinois University alumna and Iowa Teacher of the Year Sara Russell recalls the many opportunities to not only learn new concepts and ideas through her courses at WIU, but the interactions with peers she shared from all walks of life.

Russell's time at WIU had a profound impact on both her career and her approach to education.

"While I have always considered myself a life-long learner, my classes at WIU-QC have sparked an ever greater love of learning, and love for the power of education. Because of my time at WIU-QC, I became a better thinker, writer and, I hope, human," said Russell.

Russell started her career in teaching as a high school special education teacher at Benton Community in Van Horne, IA., but eventually found her way to the Quad Cities, working as a teacher at Pleasant Valley High School.

At the beginning of her journey at Pleasant Valley High School, Russell worked as a career center advisor, taught for a semester at the district's alternative high school, and, for the last 16 years, has been a member of the social studies department. Russell has also served as a teacher leader in her building helping to develop and deliver professional development.

"Next school year will be the first time in 20 years that I will not be in a traditional classroom," said Russell.

Russell's career recently shifted after hearing she had won Iowa Teacher of the Year in October 2021. Her journey will now encompass tenure as she serves as an ambassador for education, and the importance of education being courageous, compassionate and collaborative.

Although Russell was able to gain knowledge of and experience through her career as an educator, her time at WIU is something she often reflects on.

"Professor Andrea Hyde was my favorite professor at WIU-QC," said Russell. "Not only did I have the opportunity to take a number of classes from Professor Hyde, but she also served as my advisor and the chair of my master's thesis committee. Hyde continues to inspire students to explore how education can positively transform society and the important role that educators play in that transformation. I found that I could immediately apply the concepts we learned in class one day to my own classroom, now in my career."

Some of her favorite memories at WIU were the teacher-led student discussions and being able to share ideas and having them respectfully challenged by peers and faculty.

"One piece of advice I would give current WIU students is to be courageous. Try something new and be open to new experiences, challenges and ideas. No one is immediately successful at everything they try, but through struggle, you experience the most growth," concluded Russell.

For more information on the Educational Leadership program, visit

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