Getting to Know You - November 2014 | Teachers College Columbia University

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Getting to Know You - November 2014

Getting to Know You is an ongoing series of mini-profiles of your TC faculty, staff and union colleagues. "Getting to Know You" focuses more on the lives that TC community members lead when they're away from West 120th Street.
Getting to Know You is an ongoing series of mini-profiles of your TC faculty, staff and union colleagues. “Getting to Know You” focuses more on the lives that TC community members lead when they’re away from West 120th Street.

A Technology Activist (Detra Price-Dennis)

“I’ve always used technology in my teaching, but the activism around it now is really exciting,” says Detra Price-Dennis, Assistant Professor of Elementary & Inclusive Education, who joined TC’s faculty in Fall 2013. “It’s reshaping our democracy.”

A former elementary school teacher who spent years in inclusive classrooms, Detra believes teachers must use digital tools to promote literacy in children who are often marginalized in schools.  Technology can empower kids with learning issues to become confident and capable producers of texts that others can interact with,” she says. 

In Austin, Texas, Detra has been studying the fifth grade classroom of teacher Emily Smith, an avid technology champion whose students significantly outperform the district. Many of their families are first or second generation immigrants, but to Price-Dennis, their ethnic or linguistic backgrounds are strengths to build upon. 

“You have to speak to youth culture, and that means engaging digital literacies,” she says. “The teacher has to have the know-how to introduce technology and the confidence to let kids choose their own platforms.”

Detra came to TC in part because “tradition and legacy precedes itself -- I was thrilled to work with trailblazers I’ve admired for years. In her classes, she assigns exercises such as writing six-word memoirs and embedding them on a Tumblr page with photos. “It’s so important to give preservice teachers a taste of what their own students are doing and how technology can impact your teaching.”

Understanding Educators (Nancy Velez)

As a former fifth grade bilingual teacher in the South Bronx, Nancy Vélez understands and appreciates the commitment and hard work done by educators.  Here at Teachers College her educational background has served her well in her role as Senior Director of Major Gifts in the Department of Development and External Affairs, where she has worked for the past six years.  As a lead fundraiser she has been responsible for closing many large gifts that have helped our programs and students succeed.  One of the most notable gifts will allow TC to completely renovate the 4th floor of the The Gottesman Libraries, creating a state-of-the art learning theater for our community to advance its work in research and practice.  Nancy says that she is “honored to raise money and to facilitate the gift-giving process that has and will directly impact the lives of students and faculty within our community.”

Nancy has worked in development positions at Sarah Lawrence College, Thirteen/WNET, ThinkQuest, Inc. and Prep for Prep.  At Prep for Prep, she managed the organization’s largest educational initiative, which offered promising students of color access to a private school education and life-changing opportunities.

Outside of work, Nancy enjoys playing scrabble, paddleball and tennis with family and friends, as well as attending operas. She greatly enjoyed TC’s 125th anniversary Gala at Harlem’s Apollo Theater in Fall 2013, especially since it brought back memories of her performances during Amateur Night, where she was a two-time winner.

The Many Hats de Lisa (Lisa Daehlin)

When Lisa Daehlin moved to New York City from her native Minnesota, she gave up her business, “Hats de Lisa” – but only in the literal sense.

“I have three identities,” says Lisa, Academic Secretary in TC’s Department of International & Transcultural Studies.

First and foremost, she is a singer (check her out on YouTube) whose repertoire ranges from music by the 19thcentury composer Edvard Grieg, a fellow Norwegian, to Cole Porter’s “The Tale of the Oyster,” about a mollusk with social aspirations. Steeped in the phenomenal choral tradition of the Midwest, Lisa earned her M.A. in Music & Music Education at TC and gives concerts at Norwegian churches, in the music series in St. Paul’s Chapel on the Columbia campus, and at the Cornelia Street Café.

“I’ve got some Ethel Merman in me,” she says. “Sing out, Louise!”

Then there’s Lisa the knitting designer, whose “thigh-grazing #37 Lace Coat,” with its “innovative blend of broomstick lace and Tunisian crochet” was featured in Vogue Knitting’s 2012 Special Collector’s Issue. That design (conceived of in a moment of inspiration during an Art Ed class here at TC and whipped up in a doodle in the margin of her class notes) garnered sufficient attention for Vogue to blog about it (mentioning that TC class) in 'Crochet Lace Cabaret'. “I used to do fabrics, but I started knitting when I came to New York because it takes up less space and it’s portable – you can get a lot of stitching done while waiting for the subway,” says Lisa. “It also really slows things down – and people who spend their days on computers tend to need that.”  

And then there’s Lisa the educator, who oversaw the continuing education program at the Minnesota College of Art and Design, taught knitting at Cooper Union for seven years, and teaches voice as well.

Sometimes all of these identities merge – as when Lisa performed a song cycle titled “Twisted Stitch,” written for her by composer Stefania de Kenessey, or on her blog (  For now, though, she leaves an interviewer with some cryptic, if inarguable advice:

“Lately I’ve been knitting with old video tape, which is basically polyester,” she says. “It will last forever, but if you leave it in direct UV light, it will turn to powder in 15 years. So don’t knit curtains with it.”

Published Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014


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