By Dani Moritz-Long
At three years old, a young, ambitious and curious Laura D’Alessio imagined she was a teacher — her stuffed animals playing the role of her ever-attentive students. In preschool, she aspired to be a paleontologist and, in first grade, she was an eager member of the young astronauts club — always envisioning a life of discovery.
In retrospect, her career as a science educator makes perfect sense. Yet, in the years following her time playing pretend school and envisioning herself as a groundbreaking scientist, Laura found herself unsure of her future. She entered college with an English major, and she changed her major four or five times on record (unofficially, Laura said, that number was more like 15 times).
Then, something life-changing happened. She enrolled in College Algebra at Valencia College and, suddenly, her path was clear.
“I had such a great experience at Valencia,” Laura recalled. “Taking that class over the summer, my professor was amazing, the class was amazing. It was in that class that I said I want to do that; I want to be a professor.”
Specifically, after an accidental-but-highly-successful enrollment in biology, she decided she would teach biology — ultimately trading stuffed bears for humanoid pupils.
Laura earned her bachelor’s degree in science education (life sciences track) and a master’s degree in educational leadership (community college education track with a biology concentration) while managing a hardware store.
In 2014, she taught her first class — General Biology II — at Valencia College.
“It was exactly what I expected it to be, and I expected it to be great,” Laura said about teaching her class. “It fulfilled all expectations for a career I hope to have until I retire.”
Today, Laura said, she continues to appreciate the opportunity to transform lives and benefit the community she grew up in.
“I am a facilitator; I create the conditions where learning can happen while attempting to reduce barriers that students often experience in higher education,” Laura said. “My job is to act as the bridge between my students and my discipline and to make the content as accessible as possible to the widest range of learners. My goal is to show every student that they have a place in biology and that my chosen field welcomes them to the table to engage as science-literate citizens. This is especially important for populations of students who have traditionally not seen themselves represented in the sciences.”
Part of how Laura accomplishes this is by personally engaging with students, forging relationships, learning about their goals and exhibiting the kindness and compassion that once made Laura feel at home as a Valencia student.
“As a faculty member, I feel like I benefit from that sense of enthusiasm and community, and I am encouraged to emulate the same welcoming and inclusive behaviors that benefited me during my time here as a student,” Laura said. “Despite our large and ever-growing size, our sense of connection across our campuses and between faculty, staff and students remains strong. I am glad to play a part in the work we do to improve the quality of life for people in my hometown.”
Bob Gessner, dean of science, says Laura plays a pivotal role in doing just that.
“Laura has proven to be an outstanding educator and colleague,” he said.” She is one of our hardest working, most competent and dedicated professors. Watching Laura teach is a terrific experience. Rigorous, fair, organized and friendly, her students overwhelmingly vouch for the excellent learning experiences she provides. She is a star in the classroom!”
Outside of the classroom, you’ll finding Laura spending time with her husband (who she met at Valencia), tinkering in the garage, doing home improvement projects, listening to alternative rock and — not unlike many of her peers — finding herself lost in the worlds of science fiction.
Know of someone who embodies one of Valencia’s values (learning, people, diversity, access or integrity), who has been an employee for at least one year? Send the colleague’s name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu. He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.