It Runs in the Family: Mother-Daughter Duo Exemplify Go West Spirit via Scholarship

Julie Lineback

Monday, August 22nd, 2022

How do you honor an educator who has spent her life teaching the importance of a multicultural and globally connected world?

For the University of West Georgia’s Dr. Cecilia Lee, professor emerita of Spanish, the answer was simple. Although she retired in 2007, her former students, friends and family created a scholarship in her name, the Cecilia Castro Lee Scholarship, ensuring she will impact generations to come.

“This legacy is not about the money or having it in my name, but it’s about what the students have in their hearts,” Lee shared. “It’s about their memories and how these courses they take will help them in their lives. I want it to open doors for the students to see their futures and opportunities.”

In a global world, languages matter, and few people could attest to that more than Lee. Born in Bogotá, Colombia, she moved to the United States as part of a teacher exchange program sponsored by the Cordell Hull Foundation after earning an undergraduate degree in philology and languages at the Universidad Pedagógica de Bogotá. Two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. later, she spent more than three decades teaching Spanish, French and English as a second language for the University System of Georgia – the majority of which took place at UWG.

In addition to teaching in the College of Arts, Culture and Scientific Inquiry, Lee also was in charge of the teacher training program in partnership with the College of Education.

“I taught that the subject of education is not Spanish, French or German – the subject of education is the student,” she said. “You have to help them learn, grow and succeed. People have to feel accepted and encouraged. ”

A large part of Lee’s tenure at UWG was spent accompanying students on study abroad trips to Spain and Mexico. 

“It’s important that students get in contact with the culture and history to practice their language skills,” she recalled. “It was an incredible experience and very rewarding. A student told me once, ‘Dr. Lee, my life is divided in two: before Mexico and after Mexico.’ It opened their eyes to see the world.” 

Lee’s daughter, UWG alumna Capt. Susana Lee, recently breathed new life into the merit-based scholarship, one Susana said matches Cecilia’s enduring nature. 

“Someone like her being honored in this way for years to come is a beautiful thing,” Susana shared. “For students to major in any foreign language shows an appreciation for others and a willingness to recognize the nature of humanity.”

Susana matches her mother’s grit and vivacity. A 1992 graduate of then-West Georgia College, she was recently promoted to captain following a 22-year career with the U.S. Coast Guard. She said her time at UWG prepared her for the upward trajectory from a Spanish major to American Airlines flight attendant to the military. 

“Higher education leads to the pursuit of knowledge in any capacity,” Susana observed. “It’s the willingness to think outside the box, learn from others and see a different perspective. The intellectual exercise makes you realize how important it is to leverage that knowledge and keep learning. I finished my bachelor’s in three years because I enrolled in summer courses, and I think that’s one of the reasons I excelled in my military career. I’m driven, and UWG allowed me the flexibility to move at my own pace.”

Recipients of the Cecilia Castro Lee Scholarship must be a Spanish major and have completed a Spanish literature course. Like the mother-daughter duo, beneficiaries must be driven to use the language and immerse themselves in other cultures. 

“The scholarship is a way to identify students who look at the world as a whole,” Susana said. “The people who are selected are now the messengers of conveying the importance of learning a foreign language.”

Shelly Elman, chair of UWG’s Department of English, Film, Languages and Performing Arts, expressed her gratitude to both Lees.

“Dr. Lee was a devoted and inspiring faculty member, and her continued dedication to students is legendary,” Elman said. “Capt. Susana Lee’s generosity shows that her mother’s benevolence runs in the family.”

For more information about how you can honor Dr. Cecilia Lee by adding to this gift, please visit UWG’s Give West page.