Even as an undergraduate student at Winona State University, Tommy Sawyer knew he wanted to become a teacher—and a great one, at that.

In high school, his social studies teachers made such a positive impact on his learning experience that he couldn’t wait to create an even better environment for his students. 

And now, after meeting his wife and working as a social studies teacher for 10 years, Sawyer is graduating from WSU again this Spring—this time with a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership. 

He believed returning to WSU for further education would not only advance his career, but also enhance his teaching skills and help him enrich his students’ learning experiences.  

“A lot of what I use in the classroom today with middle school students is a little piece of this and that from all the professors I’ve had at WSU.”

Sawyer has been working here and there over the years to finish up his master’s degree. 

When it comes to the delivery and quality of teaching, Sawyer says the Organizational Leadership program stood out from other fully online or distanced learning programs because it was designed for non-traditional students like him.  

“I’m grateful that there are professors who are serious, who are really well-respected in the field, and who do a lot of research themselves. I’m also grateful that we meet—even if it’s on Zoom—to talk and learn from each other.” 

Sawyer chose education as his career path because he enjoys a fun challenge. 

When it comes to teaching global studies to eighth graders at Winona Middle School, Sawyer has a blast. 

“It’s just awesome to take the knowledge that I got from WSU and share it with students. They’re at the age when I can still blow their minds with some cool facts about the world and the people who live in it.” 

He sees his recent master’s thesis research in social-emotional learning environments at work within his own classroom. When Sawyer is working with his middle school students, he believes it’s part of his job to be emotionally present and receptive to their concerns.  

Sawyer’s long-term goal is to create a space for empathy and learning, an environment where his students want to come back and learn more each day.  

He wants his students to learn about other people in different states and countries, so they can develop a global perspective.  In the future, Sawyer is interested in updating the teaching curriculum to include more civic engagement and citizenship behavior topics.  

Sawyer is passionate about building debate and personal discussion skills in his classroom, giving his students the opportunity to practice being respectful community members.  

He enjoys having class discussions with his students, even when they aren’t 100% serious.  

To Sawyer, in the less serious moments, he finds his job rewarding and important because he can create a positive environment. 

He’s also excited to continue working at the middle school with his students.  

Sawyer has had the pleasure of working alongside other WSU educators and wants to keep the tradition going.  

“We want people from Winona State to work in our schools because they’re getting a good education and getting good experiences. And they come from the community that we’re trying to serve.”  

With a graduate degree from WSU under his belt, Sawyer feels more confident as an educator.  

“I would say that in general, Winona State has a great reputation in terms of producing early childhood educators all the way to college professors.”