by Maddie Mason, Jamie Gilbert-Fitzpatrick, Eddie Bates

Compromising, reasonable, and responsible are just some of the adjectives teachers and students use to describe engineering teacher Sondra Suarez, so it is no surprise that Suarez won the teacher of the year award for her hard work, dedication, and leadership.

“I think she’s very dedicated.  She has done some outstanding things for our department.  She is a leader in helping the engineering program grow at Dutch Fork,” business education teacher Gail Gallman said.

Suarez enjoys teaching engineering, where she focuses on open-ended, hands on projects to keep her students engaged. Her hard work and dedication finally pays off.

“It was a surprise and it was a nice feeling to be recognized and appreciated,” Suarez said.

Graduating with an honors and Cum Laude from Clemson University in 1981 with a degree in engineering instruction, went on to teach in Chicago, Spartanburg and Columbia pursuing her passion of teaching.

“I like being around kids and I like helping kids discover what they can do and develop their skills,” Suarez said.  “It seemed like a more creative outlet [than an industry option].”

Teaching wasn’t always what Suarez wanted to do but she enjoys the chance that she has to shape the future for her students and hone their skills.

“[Teaching for me is] to let people know what their skills, talents and interests are and [to help them] develop along those lines of what they are interested in so they can take pride in their work and discover what they are good at,” Suarez said.

Students appreciate everything Suarez does for them.

“Mrs. Suarez is a good teacher because she’s always working with students and willing to compromise with any difficulties that may be happening in the class.  She’s very interactive.  She feels like someone you can be friends with,” senior William Blanks said.

William, who has had all three of Suarez’s engineering classes, encourages others to take her class.

I like taking her class because its always a calm atmosphere and very relaxed yet you still get a lot of work done.  It’s always hands on work and stuff that I like,”  William said.  “[Students] should take her class if [they] like a teacher who’s reasonable and can understand that [everyone has a] bad day here or there and someone who is very likely to compromise with studies.”

On top of this achievement, it is especially sweet for Suarez considering that last year, Suarez was diagnosed with breast cancer. When she heard the news, she could not believe it.

“When you first find out, you’re kind of in a daze. You have a list of things you have to do and appointments you have to make. You have to move heaven and earth to make sure you can still get to work. You have a real set routine of medicines you take, and doctor’s appointments, and chemotherapy,” Suarez said.  “You meet a lot of other people who are doing the same thing and the people are very supportive. Your hair, eyebrows and eyelashes fall out. It’s not pleasant but it does grow back.

Suarez started radiation and chemotherapy in spring and it continued through the summer. Chemotherapy was every two weeks so Suarez often missed Thursdays and Fridays at school, but still managing to be strong for her daughters through the sickness that followed after the chemo.

“When she did have cancer she never once showed us that things were getting bad, she always [put] on a strong face and continues to do that everyday,” Suarez’s daughter senior Marypat Suarez said.

Suarez still carries the weight of having one of the most lethal diseases on the planet. Considering that 43 percent of females diagnosed do not recover, she lives life for the present.

“You appreciate more [now knowing] that forever is finite,” Suarez said. “So you want to make sure you do stuff you want to do rather than things you have to do.”