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Roselle teacher and Caldwell University alumna, Lauren Podkul ‘11, received the “Teacher of the Year” award in her school district this year. Podkul, who did not anticipate winning the award, was thrilled to accept it, especially as a Caldwell Music Department alum.

She recalls her math courses in college and how shortly before she was set to graduate, she had to quickly change gears after deciding music was the path for her. Prior to her change of plans, Podkul thought she wanted to teach middle school math, for which she also has a certification from Caldwell. 

Because of her pivot in academics, the final months of Podkul’s college career were challenging but she says she would not change her path for anything. She is grateful to Rebecca Vega, professor of music and the director of instrumental studies, marching band, and wind ensemble at Caldwell, who helped her gain experience even after she graduated. Vega assisted Podkul in preparing to  look for music teaching jobs.  

As an undergraduate at Caldwell, Podkul invested her time in the Music Department and the Campus Ministry, worked as a writing tutor in the Academic Support Center, and wrote articles for the University’s student newspaper, the Kettle. 

Once Podkul began working in her field, the professors in Caldwell’s Music Department  encouraged her to continue practicing music while she was teaching. Finding a balance between her musical profession and hobbies motivated Podkul during times of self-doubt. “It reminded me why I was passionate about music…it really helped me to keep going,” she said.  

As a teacher, Podkul has also made it a point to get involved in activities at Abraham Clark High School and Grace Wilday Junior High where she teaches orchestra to students in grades seven through twelve. She enjoys getting to know all of her students and learning about their interests. 

Podkul credits her recent success to the growth of the orchestra program in Roselle. Although she created the program at the junior high school six years ago, she still looks forward to more musical talent and participation within the orchestra community. 

“My goal is to continue to grow the orchestra program in Roselle, and give my students a variety of performance opportunities both in school and throughout the community,” said Podkul. In the next few years, she also hopes to see “more confident musicians” among her gifted group of junior high and high school students. 

Podkul deserves her latest title, Teacher of the Year, for many reasons. She not only reflects the positive values of her own community in Roselle, but also reminds her fellow Caldwell Cougars why it is important to hold the University’s core mission close to their hearts and strive to live it out.

Podkul is the epitome of what it means to be an inspiring educator who performs with passion and grace. Congratulations, Lauren! You are such a shining light for your students and our CU community!

-Kylee Blaney