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5 Questions with … Former NC State College of Education Associate Dean Anona Smith Williams ’91MS, ’02EDD Reflects on Leadership Institute for Future Teachers

Former NC State College of Education Associate Dean speaking at the LIFT Closing Ceremony in 2022.

In the summer of 1986, former NC State College of Education Associate Dean Anona Smith Williams ’91MS, ’02EDD led the creation of what would later become the Leadership Institute for Future Teachers, an invitational program hosted by the College of Education for students interested in teaching who are rising high school seniors in North Carolina.

In her own words, Smith Williams describes how LIFT came to be, why it matters and what she hopes the next generation of LIFT participants, who will begin their experience next week, take away from the program. 

On how LIFT came to be: The Leadership Institute for Future Teachers was started from a conversation that I had with Dr. Joe Clary ’55, who was the department head of occupational education. He was heavily involved in the Future Farmers of America, which was known for producing exemplary leaders, and I wanted to find a way to provide such leadership skills to future teachers. This was in the early ’80s before the “teacher leader” concept emerged. Upon my arrival, we were not offering many pre-college experiences, and I knew the importance of high school students having early experiences that would demystify a large public institution like NC State, particularly for African American students. The first LIFT participants arrived during the summer of 1986.

On what stood out from the first LIFTs: The most memorable part of the early LIFT experience was how much the participants loved their LIFT counselors and bonded with each other. In their high schools, they were often the only Black students in their advanced classes so being around like-minded students who were proud of their accomplishments was truly an affirming experience. They now had a network of peer support around the state.

On why LIFT matters: As a land grant College of Education, we must continue to lead in the way in addressing the opportunity and achievement gaps that currently exist in rural communities, economically challenged communities and communities of color. It is the aforementioned that represent the greatest critical need in populating the teacher pipeline with licensed, well-trained teachers.

On what I hope for LIFT for the next 40 years: I hope LIFT will continue to serve as a platform for high school students to understand the importance of finding their voice, advocating for equity, and serving as a vehicle for transformation upon returning to their schools and communities. I hope that LIFT will continue to deconstruct the negative narrative around teaching as a career and therefore de-stigmatize that it’s not cool or a good thing to major in a field of education. Finally, I hope LIFT participants will continually affirm the power of knowledge and what they have learned throughout the week.

On what I would tell high school students about LIFT: Come ready for a life-changing experience that will continue to drive your thirst for knowledge, self-awareness and hopefully your commitment to becoming a leader in high schools, communities and school systems as teacher leaders.