Why I Give: Dianne and Tommy Lawing Increase Scholarship Support to ‘Improve the World, One Teacher at a Time’
Editor’s Note: This is part of a “Why I Give” series in which NC State College of Education alumni, students, faculty and staff share why they support the college.
When Dianne Carver Lawing ’71 began her freshman year as an education major at NC State University, there were fewer than 300 female students living on campus. Often the lone female student in her math classes, it was there she realized the difference she could make as an educator.
“My favorite class was probably non-Euclidean geometry. It really made you go back and think about things like a student would, because in non-Euclidean geometry there are not 180 degrees in a triangle,” Lawing said. “All of that stuff did not work, and I think that’s when it kind of jelled for me: That’s what’s happening to these kids. They don’t know what’s happening either.”
Lawing would dedicate her career to being the teacher who would help her students understand foundational mathematical concepts. In 1971, she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in education, becoming the first member of her family to complete an undergraduate degree.
For five years, she taught in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system. After earning a Master of Education from Queens University in 1985, she accepted a position as a middle school mathematics teacher at Charlotte Country Day School. She soon became the middle school scheduler and successfully lobbied the school to separate seventh and eighth grade mathematics classes by gender, a practice that continues at the school. Lawing worked at Charlotte Country Day School for 33 years, before retiring at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.
“Education not only gave me a career, it gave me a good career,” Lawing said. “It gave me a chance to influence a lot of students and hopefully influence a lot of students to go into the math, science and technology field. Hopefully, I was able to put in them a love for math, to want to understand it. That was always a biggie for me. Don’t just do it. Understand what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Of course, that was part of what was instilled in me in the College of Education.”
At NC State, Dianne Lawing also met her husband, Tommy. Tommy Lawing earned his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and economics and graduated the same year as Dianne. After college, he joined a family-run real estate company where he continues to work. They have a son, Tripp Lawing, as well as a grandson.
The Lawings support the NC State College of Education through the Dianne Carver Lawing Scholarship, a merit-based scholarship that supports undergraduate students, with a preference given to first-generation students. Thanks to additional funding the Lawings are providing on NC State’s Day of Giving, the scholarship is projected to be the College of Education’s first full cost of attendance scholarship.
“We want to support the classroom teacher of tomorrow to make a difference in the world,” Tommy Lawing said. “The foundation is all on that classroom teacher, so I want the best ones in the world that I can. I want the best ones in the world for my grandchildren and their children. We’re supporting scholarships for the teachers who will be teaching our grandchildren and great grandchildren a long time from now.”
In the Q&A below, Dianne and Tommy Lawing talk about the role education has played in their lives, why they feel it’s important to give back and about the impact they hope they are able to make through their support. The following is edited for length and clarity.
Why do you give to the NC State College of Education?
Tommy Lawing: NC State has been very good to us and education has been that common denominator, if you will, through our whole family. Get a good education, and you will have a better life. Education becomes that foundation. And so, when we were asked to support the College of Education, it just came naturally. We just appreciate that education became the foundation on which a lot of good things have happened to us.
We both got good educations. Dianne taught for 37 years. She waited until our son was in school before she started, and I went straight into the family business. Neither of us were ever unemployed in our entire life. We never missed a paycheck. We never missed a single day without working for a company somewhere or a school somewhere, and that’s because we had a good education.
Dianne Lawing: Having been in education, I realized how much we need good math teachers, especially. The scholarship isn’t only for math teachers, but if we’re going to succeed in the technology fields, then middle school is where it’s going to start. Those kids have got to get a good foundation in the basics of algebra, because that’s the building block for all the higher level math classes. We’ve got to attract teachers; we’ve got to keep them and first of all, we’ve got to get them in the door.
What do you hope to see happen as a result of your gift?
Tommy Lawing: I want good things to happen in the world. I want good things to happen to my grandchildren, my grandson and to his children and that generation. And it seems to all go back to education. Back to what Dianne said, we need good educators in the classroom to make that wish come true.
If Dianne and I can help a student who wouldn’t have made it through college before make it through college and become a good educator, then it’s worth it. The goal is basically to improve the world, one teacher at a time.
Dianne Lawing: Another thing is to have them graduate without debt. In education, I think it’s really hard to pay that debt off because salaries are not what they could be. I think providing that financial support is important.
Why do you feel it’s important to give back?
Dianne Lawing: I grew up thinking you need to give back, and you need to make it better than you found it. The older you get, the less time you have to give back, so it’s time.
Tommy Lawing: For those who were given much, much is expected. We’ve been richly blessed at this point and feel like we should simply give it back and give back as much as we can at this point in the game.
What would you say to other potential donors?
Tommy Lawing: If you worked really hard for 40 or 50 years, and you’re grateful to something or somebody for getting you there, give back somewhere along the line. I believe education was the secret to our success, certainly the foundation, and therefore it was just logical to support education at this point. It’s hard to beat NC State for a good education. We certainly saw that. If every year we can help one or two students get a good education from NC State, who otherwise could not afford it, then it’s all worth it at that point.
Dianne Lawing: I think you also want to attract the best. You want to be able to attract that person that’s on the line between education and something else, and you want to be the one that tips it over to education.
What was the last thing that inspired you?
Tommy Lawing: I’m inspired by those teachers who are really struggling and trying to make a difference. I have great admiration for good teachers that are out there—classroom, business, continuing education, you name it. I do appreciate really fine teaching, but I realize it doesn’t pay that well. So maybe we can help them with that.
Dianne Lawing: I was inspired by the teachers that learned how to teach on Zoom. I do think they did an excellent job working in very difficult circumstances.
What advice would you have to students who are pursuing a future in education?
Tommy Lawing: Stick with it. You are making a difference. I don’t know if a classroom teacher trying to put together tomorrow morning’s lesson plan really thinks about how many people they have influenced, how many folks’ lives they have bettered by the education they’ve given them.
It’s not financially rewarding, but it is rewarding in its own way. And so I would urge them to stick with it. They are making a difference. They are the good guys in the world that are making a difference, and I appreciate them.
Dianne Lawing: There’s not a whole lot to add to that, but I would just say you are making a difference. Even when you don’t realize it, you are.