By Robin Broberg
Larey Lawrence still remembers his first day of teaching in 1971 at Utah Trade Technical Institute, which would one day become Utah Valley State College. As a teacher of motor control theory, the hardest part was facing his students for the first time, he said.
“I remember thinking, ”What are you doing here?”” he said.
Lawrence said he remembers feeling unsure of himself and full of nerves. The first year went smoothly enough, but during the second year at UTTI, he made friends with the students and built relationships that exist today.
Lawrence”s retirement in July marks 35 years and 10 months working at UVSC, which makes him the longest employed instructor at UVSC. He shares this honor with Professor Reed Gooch in the finance and economics department.
According to his associates, Lawrence proved remarkable reliability and capability all 35 years he taught.
The first three to four years working there were a struggle for Lawrence and his new family, he said. He taught at UVSC as a regular instructor, but also had to teach night classes in order to survive financially.
“My wife pretty much packed my bags and said, ”You might as well live there,”” he said.
Since then, the college has evolved into one of the fastest growing colleges in Utah, soon to become a university in 2008. Lawrence has seen it all. He first walked the halls of the college, then UTTI, as a high school student in 1963.
“When I started, I was on the verge of dropping out of school,” Lawrence said. “UTTI gave me the chance to continue schooling, and it created a career for me.”
After using his associate”s degree in electric automation in the Vietnam War, Lawrence was asked to teach in the electric automation and robotic technology department at UVSC in 1971.
Historically, UVSC has focused on reaching out to minorities, struggling students and single-parent families. The college still reaches out to these demographics today, but the once strictly vocational-oriented curriculum and extracurricular activities have made way for more clubs, activities and degrees geared toward a younger generation. Lawrence said the change is obvious.
“When I stay in the electronics shop and the department, it is not too different than UTTI,” Lawrence said. “As soon as you walk down the hallways, though, you feel like you”re in two different schools.”
The average age at UTTI in the ”60s and ”70s was about 27. Now, with the increased enrollment of high school graduates, the average age is 22.
“The enrollment of high school students was not a direct line,” said Karl Worthington, the academic affairs interim vice president at UVSC and employee of the college for more than 30 years.
The direct line for high school students hadn”t formed until a few years ago, although there was a constant flow of enrolling students.
“We didn”t really worry about enrollment,” Worthington said. “We just tried to accommodate the amount coming in every year.”
Although the president of UVSC, William Sederburg, promised that the school”s focus toward the trades would not diminish with the decision to become a university, Lawrence”s one concern about the future of UVSC as a university is the college won”t have the same pull for the older students, who hope to learn a trade quickly.
“I would hope the community wants the trades to continue,” Lawrence said. “I don”t think people realize how important the two-year programs are.”
Besides being employed as an instructor, Lawrence worked in the physical plant of UVSC during the summer months. He performs his duties, always working to code, never complaining and being efficient and able, said Bob Clark, the director of the physical plant, who has worked at UVSC even longer than Lawrence has.
“He leaves no stone unturned,” Clark said. “He can do anything.”
Since Lawrence was 12 years old, electronics has been his hobby. The world of electricity and technology has changed dramatically in that time. Though he was raised on 1950”s electronics, Lawrence made it a priority to stay on top of technological changes and continuous learning.
“If you stop, you”re dead,” he said.
Throughout his career at UVSC, he made it a point to stay at least one step ahead of the students, he said.
“He is very anxious about teaching the newest technology,” said Russ Terry, a UVSC graduate and acquaintance of Lawrence. “He stays abreast of the industry, and his students are the beneficiaries.”