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Thursday, April 19, 2012

‘Life is a Puzzle’ says UNCP’s Last Lecturer

Dr. Larry Mabe condensed a lifetime of professional and personal experience into a “Last Lecture” at UNC Pembroke.

Larry MabeA 43-year educator, Dr. Mabe delivered the UNCP’s second annual Last Lecture on April 11 in the Givens Performing Arts Center. He teaches in the university’s Master of School Administration program. His students nominated him for the honor.

The title of his lecture was “Life is a Puzzle.” As he noted at the start, Dr. Mabe spoke as “the teacher.” He offered a PowerPoint and handouts but skipped the quiz.

In distilling life’s lessons through favorite sayings, Dr. Mabe took a trip down memory lane. There was Mrs. Connor, the French teacher who failed him on his first test.

“Her expectations were my driving force,” he said. “You get what you inspect and you get what you expect, and for her, evaluation of student work was critical. A poor grade was always a disappointment to her.”

As a student, Dr. Mabe said he dreaded mathematics but found inspiration from his college statistics instructor. “He was the first professor to give out his home phone number to students,” he said. “He helped students before and after class. That showed how much he cared.”

Today, Dr. Mabe gives out his home phone number and his cell phone number to his students. “When a student calls a teacher on the phone to ask for help, that’s a teachable moment,” he said.

One of his many favorite sayings is “‘Can’t’ never could and never will; ‘can’ always does.” On this subject, Dr. Mabe said that an encouraging word from a teacher goes a long way with students. “You will never know how much you – as a teacher or parent – influence young people. Taking a little time to encourage a student to get up and dust themselves off really helps.”

Another of his saying was about “sticktoitiveness.” In the mid-‘90s, as superintendent of Chatham County Schools, Dr. Mabe realized the potential impact of the Internet on education. With no money, he decided to wire every classroom in the county and succeeded.

“When you feel something good can be accomplished, keep going,” he said. “There will always be naysayers.

“There are times when you will be subjected to criticism,” said the self-professed “recovering” superintendent. “Respect the opinion of others while standing your ground.”

“Kill them with kindness” was another favorite saying. “That is a thing not easily done, but never let the naysayers control your ambition. Being kind to others can unlock the best in others and take you a long way.”

Dr. Mabe said he was honored and humbled to be nominated to give the Last Lecture. Anna Wade, who chaired the Student Government Association committee responsible for picking the speaker, said she thought selecting the Last Lecturer would be a tough job.

“Dr. Mabe’s name kept coming up in discussions,” Wade said. “I was struck with the passion of the students who nominated him. They said he teaches beyond the textbook; he’s a motivator and a passionate teacher who cares about students.”

Before the lecture, Chancellor Kyle R. Carter said the program is “an opportunity to honor faculty accomplishments for their service to students. We adopted this annual program to recognize our outstanding faculty.”

In concluding, Dr. Mabe put the pieces of the puzzle together – almost. “Complete your life puzzle in such a way that others are positively affected,” he said. “But remember, as long are you are here, there will be pieces of the puzzle for you to continue putting together.”

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