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Profile: Sharon Lake - a series on interesting Marshall University people

Sharon Lake was busily pursuing a doctorate in music when she faced a dilemma—finish the degree or enter the workforce. With a job offer from Marshall, she chose to refocus and enter a new phase of her life.

“I gave up my music studies to work and that might sound odd to some people. But I’m a great believer in lifelong learning,” says Lake, who is the Associate Registrar at Marshall University, "so I’m still learning. I hope I never stop, and that helps me do my job better."

Actually, before coming to Marshall she had a rich educational background that included both studying and teaching. Her educational odyssey began in her hometown of Montgomery, W.Va., where she received an undergraduate degree in music education from the West Virginia Institute of Technology. Music was always a big part of her life growing up, nurtured, she says, by her mother, who was a musician herself. Lake characterizes her as  “a vocalist with a beautiful voice and presence.”

Encouraged by her mother, she studied piano and displayed a talent for the French horn. “Music was very important to my mother. She made sure I had a quality upbringing and had all kinds of musical training. I took piano and horn lessons and she gave me encouragement and exposure to all kinds of music. I credit her with giving me all these opportunities.” Her mother’s belief in her talent paid off. As an undergraduate, Lake was taken under the wing of a Tech faculty member who was the principal hornist for what was then the Charleston Symphony, now the West Virginia Symphony. “For three years, under my teacher’s mentorship, I was an apprentice with the orchestra. That was a wonderful experience--to be that young and to perform with a professional group of musicians.”

With that heady experience under her belt, it was only natural that Lake would pursue a master’s degree, again in music, this time in Michigan. After completing her Master of Music degree at Andrews University, she returned home to ponder her next career move, and got a tantalizing offer from her alma mater, West Virginia Tech.

“I was contacted by the learning center and hired as Tech’s tutor coordinator. That’s how I started my career in higher education, working at Tech and I was also an adjunct faculty member in music. In the tutoring position I hired, trained and supervised people for the program and I also taught study skills. I did that for two years and then the third year I was hired for one year as a full-time faculty member in music, replacing a professor who was completing his doctorate.” Since that position was ending, several of her colleagues urged her to also pursue a Ph.D. in music with the goal of returning to Tech as a full-time faculty member. She was still young and her calling for music was still strong, so after narrowing her search for a doctoral program she was admitted to the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati where she studied for the next year and a half. Then came her fateful decision to return home to West Virginia to pursue full-time work, hoping one day to return to doctoral studies.

Marshall University had just developed a tutoring program and needed a tutor coordinator. Sharon applied for the position--and got it--and was able to teach study skills. “Then, in the 1980s, Marshall began to see a growing number of disabled students, and with the era of the Americans with Disabilities Act, institutions needed to provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities. There was a great need to develop a Disabled Student Services program and I, along with others, was fortunate to be one of the first to work with that program. So I was both tutor coordinator and disabled students coordinator for the Student Development Center. I loved working with the students and for the first 26 years at Marshall I worked almost exclusively with students, providing services for them.” she says.

After 10 years serving students in tutoring and disabled student services, Lake moved to the Student Support Services program, this time as a learning specialist in the Trio program, which, she explains, is a federally funded program for at-risk students. Her duties were varied, but again she felt right at home. “I worked with students to help them improve their academic skills. I taught them how to learn, test taking, note taking, how to read textbooks better to get maximum learning from them. I held classes and I also met with them individually. I did career counseling, helping them find the fields they were best suited for. I helped seniors get ready for a professional life and job interviews as well as for graduate tests and professional school exams. One of the best thing about these jobs was watching students grow and develop and get into careers and see them contributing to society. Some have gotten advanced degrees, many are professionals in various fields. It’s so rewarding to see them in successful careers."

Then after 15 years with the Trio program, Lake felt it was time for a change. In 2004 she made the move to the Registrar’s Office which, she says, was a very wise one. “I like this kind of work and I’m very familiar with curriculum, programs and majors. I was fortunate to have been chosen for this job and I’m thankful every day. Now, while I don’t work as directly with students as I once did, I’m still providing services for them--only I’m doing it in the background, coordinating courses and registrations. And while I may not be teaching, I’m certainly still learning!”

Off the job, Lake is still learning as well, she says. She’s a dedicated Hospice volunteer, an avocation that came about after her mother, for whom she was the primary caregiver, died and she took advantage of Hospice’s bereavement counseling services. “Hospice did a wonderful thing for me, so it’s now my turn to give back. They helped me through a very difficult time, coping with my mother’s loss and my own grieving process. I wanted to pay it forward so I took the training to be a volunteer. It’s all about the patient and the family and what their needs are. There’s a real commitment when you agree to work with them but you get so much out of it yourself. There’s a sense of commitment, not an obligation, because you’re doing the work because you want to. I would do anything for this wonderful organization and I plan to do more work with them in any way I can when I retire.”

Then there’s the traveling. She’s a travel agent’s dream, because she loves everything about it. She likes flying, meeting new people, trying new foods, exploring new territories. She's completely open to new experiences. On weekends she’s apt to hop on a bus or train and set off for a new adventure. She frequently drives to Charleston Cincinnati or Lexington to take advantage of an especially enticing cultural event or shopping, particularly in bookstores. And add to that her passion for trains.

She has a real affinity for steam trains, partly, she says, because her father worked for a railroad company and she grew up around them but also because they evoke memories of an earlier time. “I have such affection for trains; it is like going back in time. For me one of the most comfortable sounds is the sound of a steam train whistle blowing from a distance.” Not surprisingly, she has taken full advantage of all the opportunities in the region to take train excursions. She’s traveled to Pocahontas County many times to ride on the Cass railroad and she’s made several trips to southern West Virginia on the Collis P. Huntington train outings.

Actually, her friends tease her that she was born a generation too late, she says good naturedly. “I do love things from the '30s and '40s. In addition to the steam trains, I love big band music, memorabilia and reading about that era. My favorite person from that era is Eleanor Roosevelt; her life and contributions continue to inspire me."

Of course music still plays a big part in her life and, just as with travel, her tastes are eclectic. Again she credits her mother with shaping her tastes because she saw that Lake was exposed to a veritable buffet of musical experiences. “I enjoy all kinds of music. Of course my favorite is classical, but I also enjoy pop, jazz, Broadway show tunes, southern gospel, big bands and marching bands,” she says. She takes full advantage of the wide spectrum of musical programs offered by the university and Marshall Artists Series. And while academically she was principally an instrumentalist, she’s inordinately modest about her vocal ability, which won her a spot in  West Virginia Tech’s concert choir and their equivalent of a show choir. “Today I just make a joyful noise,” she says. But one event she looks forward to and enthusiastically takes part in is the impromptu Old Main caroling group that gathers each year before Christmas and goes office to office with their cheery serenade.

Lake also is an avid Marshall sports fan with season tickets for both football and basketball who attends virtually all home games and many away games. She enjoys following professional sports as well.

After 31 years at Marshall, she’s firmly connected to the university, which she has seen grow and flourish during her tenure. Even her dog Emma has a MU connection. Seven years ago, a crafty coworker came to her with the sad tale of a small homeless mixed-breed terrier that had been hanging around the building site of Marshall’s new parking garage. Construction workers had been feeding her from their lunches but it was Friday and the poor thing would be going hungry for two days, the coworker sighed, knowing full well that the soft-hearted Lake was never going to let that happen. So Emma, as she was promptly dubbed, went home with her that evening where she joined two other family dogs. “I took that precious thing home with me and she has brought such joy to my life. She greets me every evening like it’s just the best part of her day.”

These days Lake is mellow about the past three decades she’s spent on the Huntington campus and, although her career plans took detours from West Virginia Tech to Cincinnati to Marshall, she says she has absolutely no regrets about her long-ago decision. “ I found the place I was supposed to be.”
 

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