Honoring Arlene O’Kelley for her Commitment to Excellence
Born and raised in El Paso, Texas, Arlene has been in New Mexico for 13 years. She joined our Medical Assisting faculty in September 2011, and has been teaching for 3 years. Arlene was nominated for this award by Mark Lucero, the Albuquerque Campus Director.
Mark, why did you nominate Arlene for this award?
“We have a great faculty here in Albuquerque, but Arlene is one of our premiere instructors. She’s been teaching triple shifts for the past three months due to a staff shortage, but has maintained a positive attitude and provided our students with great instruction. She keeps up to date with all the new technology in the profession and has done a great job being both a coach and mentor to our students.”
Congratulations on the award Arlene, how does it feel to be an award winner?
“It’s really great to get an award like this! We all bust our butts trying to do our best for our students. We show up to work every day even when we are not feeling too well, we are there for our students. To be recognized for the job you do really does mean a lot. Mark Lucero & Kory Robison [Dean of Academics] are awesome people to work for; they give me a pat on the back from time to time, and tell me to “keep up the good work”, it’s nice to know that you’re valued.”
So you’ve been teaching for just 3 years, what made you first want to teach?
“When I was in college I did my externship at a prison and that’s where I got my first job as a medical assistant. I worked in the prison off and on for 9 years, and we would have students come in and do their externship with us – I really enjoyed the teaching moments I had with them. I love teaching adult students who have the ambition to learn; to see them grow and mold themselves into something very valuable to the community is very rewarding.”
Did a particular teacher inspire you in your career?
“I’ve had a couple of teachers who have inspired me. One instructor that I recall had a huge influence on me; she spoke very highly of her own experiences of going to medical assisting school, and then just hearing all of her “real life stories” made me realize that I made the right choice! She had come a long way in her career; and had overcome so many obstacles along the way. She proved to many that anything is possible; as long as there is a will there is a way!”
Was there a moment in your career that made you think – “Yes, I’ve made the right decision here?”
“There isn’t one particular moment, but periodically I’ll have a student come to me and say “You know what Miss O’Kelley, thank you so much for everything you’ve taught me, I really appreciate it – without you I wouldn’t be where I am today.” Those are the moments where I know I’m making a difference.”
What is your motivation as a teacher? What drives you forward every day?
“It’s my students of course! I still have students who graduated a couple of years ago contact me to tell me about a new job, or to tell me that they hear my voice in their head when they’re doing a particular task… and that’s what drives me. Their success motivates me.”
This award recognizes excellence; what attributes do you think an instructor needs to excel?
“They need to have understanding, ambition, enthusiasm, and they really need to care. Patience is important too – you really need to have a lot of patience. People ask me how I do it every day – and I tell them you have to be very patient.”
Do you have any particular ‘techniques’ that help you engage your students?
“Students love to hear real life stories. If I’m lecturing on some topic, I find that if I bring a real story into it, some experience that I’ve had, then the students grasp the concept a lot better. It captures their interest because they realize it’s stuff that could actually happen in their career.”
When you get home at the end of the day, what constitutes a good day?
“A good day is having all of my students show up, and having them engaged in what we’re doing. Having them grasp the subject or topic that we’re dealing with, and take a real interest in it -that’s a good day for me.”
You obviously love your job, but where do you think you’ll be in 5 years Arlene?
“That’s a tough one. I take life day by day, but I know that I want to continue to teach. I do want to go back to school, maybe take some classes online. I’d really like to get a Masters in Behavioral Health Science; I like to work with people that have problems like substance abuse. Having worked in a prison for 9 years I was surrounded by that – and it’s very gratifying to be able to help people with those kinds of problems. But even if I go that route, I still would like to continue to teach – even if it is only part-time.”
Congratulations again Arlene, and thank you for your continued dedication to our students. This “Commitment to Teaching Excellence” award recognizes your individual excellence as an instructor. Your teaching motivates intellectual curiosity in your students, and engages them thoroughly in the enterprise of learning, making what we all hope to be a life-long impact. You not only make a difference in your students’ lives, but in your community as well.
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