Location: Charlotte, NC
They say that today’s college graduates will not only change jobs multiple times, but will change careers as well. If the prospect of multiple careers is daunting to folks, they can turn to Laura Lewin for advice. Laura has epitomized the ease with which you can jump from job to job, career to career. Her path to her current role as a guidance counselor at a large public high school in Charlotte, North Carolina may seem meandering, but to the many students she helps and counsels, it is clear she has landed exactly where she is meant to be.
Laura graduated from Emory University in 1989 with a degree in Psychology. She then went to graduate school at Duke University for a Master’s in public policy, planning to pursue her interest in foundations and nonprofits She spent one year in a fellowship at the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation in Winston-Salem before moving to New York City, where she worked for a variety of different foundations and nonprofits. After getting married, she moved to Philadelphia and decided to give her interest in teaching and education a try. She taught seventh grade English and Social Studies at a private school, describing herself as a total pushover with no classroom control. Both the marriage and the job lasted one year.
Newly divorced, Laura moved to Atlanta, where she had gone to college, and decided to switch gears again and try her hand at owning her own business. She opened a paint your own pottery store and ran it for four years, but decided that four years of retail stress was enough. She swapped the role of small business owner for that of marketing associate with different firms, also transitioning from full time to part time when she got married and got pregnant. When Max, the oldest of her three children, was a baby, she ran for City Council. She lost (narrowly) and focused on raising her children for the next few years.
In 2003, Laura decided to reinvent herself again and pursue a Masters in Counseling. graduating in December 2007. She has worked as a guidance counselor in an elementary school, middle school and high school in affluent schools near her home before landing at Olympic High School, a high poverty school across town, in 2015.
In her four years at Olympic, where Laura is responsible for 600+ students, she has instituted many innovations and new programs. She has run a college boot camp to help her students, many of whom are the first in their families to pursue a college degree, navigate the college application process. She has even taken them on college tours and has sent out phone alerts advising them about things (like standardized testing dates) that affluent students already know. She also runs a popular program for students who are undecided about what to do after graduation, showing them the many paths that are open to them so that they can visualize a life beyond high school that isn’t one size fits all.
Laura also finds that her guidance role at Olympic means getting to know the unique challenges facing Olympic’s students, half of whom are on the free and reduced lunch program and the other half of whom are from working class families. She has taken students shopping for food when parents are incarcerated or incapacitated and she has intervened on their behalf with custody battles, rape allegations and other trauma.
Laura loves how diverse Olympic’s student body is and the fact that there are so many refugees attending her school. “They are hungry for opportunities,” Laura says, and she is so glad she gets to play a role in providing them. She also knows that even simple gestures, like learning their names and saying hello to them in the hallways, mean a lot. “I love that sometimes just going the extra mile for a student can make a lifelong difference in their lives,” Laura says. “I really like my students so much and want to do whatever I can for them.”