After a 27-year career at Doane and nearly 50 years total working in education, Dr. Lyn Forester is set to retire as dean of the College of Education this summer.
Under her leadership and with her direct involvement, Doane’s College of Education has grown from an already-respected program into an elite institution of the highest academic merit. From the beginning of her time at Doane as a professor in the Curriculum & Instruction department to today, Dr. Forester has been a tireless advocate for her students.
“Lyn has had a vision for the programs since she got here,” said Dr. Tim Frey, who will be taking over as interim dean after Dr. Forester’s retirement. “Her work to expand and be strategic about how we expanded programs, especially at the graduate level, she’s taken advantage of some really innovative ideas.”
Dr. Frey cites Doane’s Fast Track certification program and growth in the school’s English Language Learner offerings as examples of Dr. Forester’s innovations.
“Those kinds of things both meet a need for the state and really help grow Doane’s program and reputation at that level, too,” Dr. Frey said.
It’s hard to say what the current College of Education would look like without Dr. Forester’s influence. Everything from Doane’s Doctorate of Education program, to the expanded focus on educational leadership and counseling programs, to the physical building housing COE in Crete, all of these have Dr. Forester’s fingerprints all over them. But she’s the last to take credit.
“As far as my leadership, I have lots of ideas,” she said. “But I could not possibly have pulled all of this off without the help and the professional expertise of my colleagues. I can’t say any of this is because of me. It has to be a group consensus.”
Still Lyn’s colleagues acknowledge her eminent contribution to the COE over her career.
“Dr. Forester has been the heart and soul of the College of Education for almost three decades,” said Doug Christensen, Nebraska’s former commissioner of education and current director of Doane’s Education Specialist Degree program, whom Lyn encouraged to join the faculty. “She has been an unwavering advocate for education of future teachers and administrators and an advocate for quality programs created by faculty who are encouraged to innovate.
“Doane's College of Education is what it is today because of the leadership of Lyn Forester and the people she encouraged to step up and lead.”Doug Christensen
Dr. Forester has had the opportunity to tackle some unique opportunities in education over her career at Doane. One of her proudest achievements, she says, was when Doane operated a master’s of education program on the Navajo reservation in Arizona in the small community of Rock Point.
“We started that program there to help native teachers get master’s degrees,” she said. “They already had teaching programs out there, and we decided to help them get advanced learning. We were there about 10 years and at one point were the third largest degree-granting institution on the Navajo reservation.”
Dr. Forester says the legacy of the Navajo reservation master’s degree program, which ran from 2005-2015, is still felt in Arizona with many Doane graduates still teaching, or holding leadership positions in schools there.
Dr. Forester has had to adapt to changing times in more ways than one over her career. National accreditation organizations and requirements change, and so does the culture into which Doane sends its teachers.
“We have added information in our programs about working with diverse populations, multicultural education, more information about English Language Learners,” she said. “I think the next direction they’re going to go is including more information about the rights of immigrants and the laws that are the basis for that. Our kids will have to know that in the future.”
“The Doane Way,” as COE’s particular teaching style is affectionately known throughout the region, is largely a product of Dr. Forester’s leadership. The high quality of COE’s curriculum, coupled with the college’s student-first focus on fundamental understanding of teaching concepts and its liberal arts foundation, combined with an eye for innovation and a reputation for placing graduates in schools where they’re needed around the state, help to define the Doane Way.
“We try to teach from a practical standpoint based in theory, so that we’re not just giving them theory, but they can use immediately what they learn,” Dr. Forester said. “The leadership programs are founded on an ethical belief system about fairness and that all students can learn.”
Dr. Forester has seen the value that Doane’s unique approach to teaching teachers creates, not only for students but also for the college.
“Over the years I’ve seen an increase in the number of undergraduates that move on up and through our graduate programs, too; we have five or six students who have finished all of their degrees with us, through the doctoral program,” she said. “People do stay with our programs. They like the way we deliver the programs. They like the care we take of students. They like the content, they way we teach that.”
Over the years, Doane itself has seen an increase in educational offerings thanks to Dr. Forester. Under her guidance Doane developed it’s doctorate of education, it’s advanced degrees in educational leadership and school counseling, its Fast Track program for certification at the advanced level, as well as numerous innovative new programs and features throughout undergrad and C&I departments. Her list of accomplishments is long.
“One of the things you notice right away when you’re working with Lyn is how powerful of an advocate she is for the students,” Dr. Frey said. “She’s advocated for outstanding classrooms. We have the technology we need. We have the space we need. She has found ways through grants and other ways to get us resources. That’s a really important part of what we do. That’s a part of our reputation.”
Dr. Frey says Dr. Forester has been instrumental in increasing Doane’s collaborations with area school districts, both for educational and job placement opportunities for students.
“That’s important,” he said. “It’s not always a priority everywhere.”
Dr. Forester originally hails from Oklahoma, and most of her education took place in that state. She received her doctorate from Oklahoma State. But before that she had a whole earlier career. Before she was Dr. Forester she was Mrs. Forester, a fifth-grade teacher for nearly 20 years.
“It’s funny but you do use some of the same techniques with both age groups,” she said. “I used a lot of my classroom techniques and models of teaching that I learned when I was teaching fifth grade. You make them appropriate for the age level, but the basic foundation doesn’t change.”
It hasn’t been all serious business for Dr. Forester over the past 27 years. A colleague of hers shared that Dr. Forester has a soft spot for the animals of the world and looked out for them almost as much as her students.
“She insisted for a week that I had to go to an animal clinic to see a little orange kitten named Booger,” said Prof. Linda Kalbach. “Booger was a tiny, sickly stray who stole hearts despite being entirely covered in snot. Upon hearing Booger was going to be put down, Dr. Forester wanted to adopt him, and would have taken the little guy in if not for her two large dogs, so she persisted in getting me to see the little guy. Ten years later, Booger lives with me, ridiculously happy and loving and very much alive thanks in large part to Dr. Forester’s tender heart.”
Dr. Forester has had numerous occasions to take groups of students on trips around the world, and has racked up an impressive collection of passport stamps. She’s overseen trips to Portugal and Spain, where she’ll be traveling one last time yet this year, as well as England, Austria, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Peru. South America seems to have a vendetta against Dr. Forester, and she has had a few brushes with danger in the Southern Hemisphere.
“One year we went to Peru and hiked a 15,000 foot mountain, and I almost killed all of us doing it,” she says, laughing. “The kids were better than us adults, but the air was just so thin up there you couldn’t breathe. I got very dizzy and disoriented at times, so we had to go really slow. You literally just had to put one foot in front of the other, you know?”
Almost succumbing to the perils of altitude couldn’t hold a candle to one night in Brazil, however.
“We went on a “survivor's night,” and I remember thinking how bad can it be? They’re advertising it, right?” Dr. Forester remembers. “Let me tell you something, it was bad. The heavens opened and it just rained and rained and rained. We had to build the huts we slept in, then it got so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face and it was just rainy and miserable.”
Then there were the predators.
“The next day our guide looked really tired and I asked him why,” she said. “He said he was up all night scaring off the jaguars who like to go on the prowl after a rain, so it was an interesting evening.”
Dr. Forester is looking forward to her retirement. She wants to finally take some time for herself, she says, and for her family.
“I’m going to plant a garden,” she said. “I’m going to clean my house of 27 years of things I no longer need or want. I’m going to work on my ancestry. I’m retiring because I want to retire. I do believe there’s a time when you time out. Let some of the younger people carry the load on into the future.”
Dr. Forester believes the college she helped define will be in good hands after she’s gone. Tim was one of her students and one of her hires, and she has every faith in him and the rest of the faculty she will be leaving behind.
“My hope for the department is that it would maintain the quality of the programs,” she said. “I would hope that anything they do in the future is designed to meet the needs of school districts and teachers. I think that’s where colleges and universities fall down; they stop growing and thinking about what it means to be a teacher, what you need to be a leader, changing with the times.
“I hope we’ll continue in that vein.”