Retired education professor Dr. Leslie Wessman, who brought 30 years of experience as an educator with her when she joined the Hope College faculty in 1990, died on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. She was 84.
She retired from Hope in 2005 as the Arnold and Esther Sonneveldt Professor Emerita of Education, also having chaired the department since 1996.
Immediately prior to coming to Hope, she was a researcher with and executive director of the Michigan Out-of-Formula District Association (MOFDA) in Lansing. She had also worked in secondary schools in Colorado, California, Rhode Island and Hawaii, teaching English and French, and serving as a guidance counselor and an assistant principal.
In addition to teaching at the college, she mentored Hope’s education students as they formed the first student chapter of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) in 1993. Her service as chair of the college’s Department of Education included leading the department during reaccreditation.
She was appointed the first recipient of the Sonneveldt chair in 1998, and in January 2005 received the college’s “Ruth and John Reed Faculty Achievement Award.” She was featured in a faculty profile in the “Hope People” section of the college’s 1993-94 “Catalog.”
Her primary scholarly interest was on brain research and its implications for learning. While at Hope, she made addresses or led workshops on topics ranging from team-building in middle schools, to altering the attitudes and perceptions of preservice secondary teachers, to brain research and its implications for teaching and learning. She was a member of several professional associations, including the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
In 2001, she helped establish the “Midwest Brain and Learning Institute,” a week-long summer conference at Hope drawing educators from around the country, serving as director through 2015. In 2020, the institute established an endowed scholarship for Hope education majors in her honor.
In January 1998, the West Michigan Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church presented her with the 1997 “Francis Asbury Award for Fostering United Methodist Ministries in Higher Education.” She was a member of the denomination’s General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, a national-level appointment, from 1989 to 1996, and chaired the Campus Ministry Committee of the board’s Division of Higher Education. She played a leadership role in developing “Vision and Reality,” the division's visioning document, and contributed to the writing of “Education: The Gift of Hope,” a local church study book. She was a member of the West Michigan Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry of the United Methodist Church from 1983 to 1996, and also chaired the board.
More recently, she was an active member of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Saugatuck, Michigan.
She completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of Wyoming, and earned three master’s degrees before completing her doctorate at Michigan State University in 1988.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Robert, who died on Dec. 31, 2022. Survivors include her son, Dylan Wessman ’94; two granddaughters, Katie and Lily Wessman; a brother, Jeff Parsons; and a sister, Lucy Butcher.
Cremation has taken place, and a memorial service will be scheduled for the spring or summer.