During her 29 years of service at the VCU School of Education (VCU SOE), Dr. Diane Simon has touched the lives of many students whom she refers to as “her children”. As her time at the school is coming to an end as she approaches retirement this July, Dr. Simon thinks back fondly of her VCU experience that shaped her professional life - and much more.
“Over the years, getting the card, call or visit to say “thank you” has been incredibly humbling and gratifying. Building these relationships has so enriched my life and my experience at VCU,” said Dr. Simon.
Before her time at VCU, Dr. Simon served as chair of the Division of Education and Psychology at Virginia Union University, where she developed and taught courses for the Speech and Hearing minor in the Special Education program.
Having joined the VCU SOE in 1988 as assistant dean and special education professor, Dr. Simon is now the senior associate dean for student affairs. Together with the Student Services Center staff, which she directs, she has supported and assisted thousands of students who came into the five-year teacher preparation program as freshmen as well as students in other graduate programs until they walk across the stage at graduation.
“The opportunity to meet and work with so many wonderful students has been most rewarding. I watch them grow, mature, graduate and move on to become successful educators,” she said.
A large part of Dr. Simon’s role at the SOE has been guiding the school through the National Council for Accreditation for Teacher Education (NCATE), now CAEP, process. She has prepared six visits since coming to VCU. The last review was the most successful yet, with full approval from NCATE and multiple commendations.
“Preparation for accreditation is a collaborative venture and the faculty is always critically important in the preparation and success of a visit - they have always been an integral part of the process,” said Dr. Simon.
Another part of her time at VCU that made a lasting impression has been meeting so many students who were struggling financially to get through school. They were taking out loans, working two jobs just to stay afloat. That is when Dr. Simon decided to also become a generous donor for the School of Education.
Together with her husband, Dr. Simon established the Elaine West Johnson Scholarship in honor of the first teacher she knew, her mother. Her mother spent 30 years teaching deaf children at the elementary school level, which inspired Dr. Simon to continue the family tradition.
When asked how the SOE has changed over the years, Dr. Simon echoed Dean Andrew Daire’s belief that we can only be as good as the school systems around us. During her time with VCU SOE, she has seen the number of local schools interested in partnering and working with the university increase.
“The emphasis on working with high needs schools is critically important and the School of Education continues to make a contribution to improving education for our children in the metro area and the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Dr. Simon. “I am particularly proud of this work.”
Dr. Simon's advice to current and future students is simple: get involved. She encourages them to join student organizations, and take advantage of all opportunities to hone their craft as educators.
“After graduation, take time to give back as a mentor, through any support to our current students, including scholarships. Also, get involved with the Education Alumni Council - we need you!” she concluded.
Dr. Simon leaves a huge legacy behind her at the VCU School of Education. Her passion for helping students succeed is what has allowed her to form lasting and valuable relationships with her students and shape her experience on campus.