Honoring Teacher Ed. Retiree's

Honoring the 'Supremes' of Teacher Education!

Honoring the 'Supremes' of Teacher Education-Mary Bigler, Karen Paciorek, and Alane Starko!

With over 125 combined years of teaching and impacting the field of Teacher Education, we're honored to celebrate the retirements of Mary Bigler, Karen Paciorek, and Alane Starko from the College of Education. We hope you will join us in making a gift in their name(s) this GivingTrueday in support of Teacher Education.


Read more about Mary, Karen, and Alane's teaching journey below:


Mary Bigler


Dr. Mary Bigler is one of the most humorous, enthusiastic and inspirational education speakers in North America. She keynotes at conferences, programs and in-service meetings throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Her dynamic style and thought-provoking message guarantee a fast-paced, informative and entertaining presentation.


Mary has been teaching, speaking, entertaining and inspiring for more than forty years. From pre-school teacher to college professor, in classrooms and lecture halls around the world, Mary has spent her life promoting literacy, advocating for children and celebrating the joys of teaching. She is an award-winning professor in the Department of Teacher Education where she teaches undergraduate and graduate literacy courses. She is a past president of the Michigan Reading Association and appears in Who's Who of American Women. She has served as an advisor to governmental and educational institutions and to business and industry. Mary has appeared on numerous television and radio programs.


Mary holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Michigan, an M.A. in History and an M. A. in Reading from Eastern Michigan University and a B.A. in History from Aquinas College. EMU has been so lucky to have such an inspirational educator who has influenced the lives of many!


Karen Paciorek


With brand new Ph.Ds in 1981 my husband Michael accepted a faculty job at EMU knowing there would be options for me in the area.  For 7 years I was a full time visiting lecturer in Teacher Ed. during the very lean times of the 1980s.  Mary Bigler was one of the first faculty members I met and Alane Starko came to EMU shortly after I arrived so to retire with these two stellar colleagues is an honor.  I was hired to a tenure track position in 1988 and started to teach 12 days after my 2nd son was born.


In 1987 we had 2 programs for children on campus: Child Development Lab, located in Rackham and the Children’s Center located in Snow Health Center.  Both of my sons attended one of those programs at some time in their early years. My youngest son started at EMU in 1988 at 6 weeks in the infant program and had an EMU ID card.  In 1991 the University combined both programs to form the EMU Children’s Institute.  Children were moved out of Snow and the Children’s Institute started its 20 year run in Rackham and is now located in the Fletcher Building. 


For a few years in the 1980s ECE colleague Leah Adams and I took our students on a full day field trip to schools in Windsor, Ontario.  That was back when you only needed a driver's license to cross the border.  Another now retired ECE colleague Dr. Judy McKee asked me to join her as an editor of Annual Editions: ECE, an annual publication that I have edited for 32 years. Before Teacher Ed. moved to Porter in 1999 we often shared an office.  I shared office space over the years with Scott Street, Leah Adams, Leon Neeb and Valerie Polakow.For 30 of my years at EMU the state of Michigan required every teacher after they received their initial teaching certificate to complete 18 post certification hours.  You only needed 30  credits for a Master’s degree, so  most continued to earn their graduate degree.  Our grad. program was booming. Once a week in Fall and Winter and twice a week in Spring I taught grad. classes from 5:15-7:25 and 7:35-9:45.  Teachers would hop in their cars from all over the area after a full day of teaching, drive to campus, hunt for parking and then take 2 grad. classes back to back then drive an hour home. 


The state stopped that requirement in 2010 which decimated our grad. program. At one time we were offering every one of our ten graduate courses with 25 in each class, 2-3 times a year.  Having my current colleague Brigid Beaubien as an undergraduate student in 1991. For a number of years in the early 2000s we had 7 faculty in ECE  Faculty in ECE retire, they don’t leave to go somewhere else. 


There were also many memorable and generous donations, partnerships, and accomplishments over the years:

-Donation by Mr. Robert Johnston in memory of his wife Gail to establish the Gail Johnston Early Childhood Classroom and Resource Library 2006

-Donation by Dr. Margo Dichtelmiller and Nancy Katz for the second dedicated ECE classroom- 2008

-Partnership with HighScope Educational Research Foundation in 2009

-Taking groups of students to Chicago, Atlanta and Washington D.C. with Brigid Beaubien to the National Association for the Education of Young Children conference to present.

-ZS General and Special Early Childhood Education Major developed and approved by state in ECE  2011

-Asked to lead EMU’s International student teaching program in China in 2012.  Made 5 trips there in a 3 year period and visited 100s of schools in 12 different Chinese cities. 

-Children and Families Major  2015 which allowed many of our students to work toward a non-certification degree to work with young children.

-The formulation of the Karen Menke Paciorek Endowed Early Childhood Education Scholarship. To donate to this cause, please click on the button in the right margin "Help Karen Make an Impact!". 


While taking a break from grading one day I did some number crunching:  From 1981-2000 I taught 23 different undergraduate and graduate classes, Including a whopping 103 sections of ECE 302.  For about 10 years solid I taught 4 sections of ECE 302 a year with 25 students in each section.  and 52 sections of ECE 600.  For a total of  376 semester long courses.  That comes out to about 12,000 individual classes and approximately 16,000 students-give or take a few.  Supervised hundreds of student teachers and interns.  Oversaw 87 independent studies, 25 master’s projects and served on 8 doctoral committees.  When I first came to EMU in 1981 we had 40 students in each section of a course.  It wasn't until about the mid 1980s we dropped to 30 then finally to our current 25 students in a class.

I taught classes in eight buildings on campus and had offices in three.


As far as retirement, I have no definite plans.  I will see what way the wind blows.  Michael and I came to EMU thinking we would stay a few years, and made it our career and it couldn't have been a better place to dig deep roots and bloom. My colleagues in Early childhood and teacher ed made it all worthwhile as we all have the same mission to help students who have a deep passion for teaching to develop the skills needed to be exemplary educators.  It has been a true pleasure and honor to work with each of you.   



Alane Starko


I started my career as a first-grade teacher in a small rural school, where we had about 500 students, K-12. Learning to use technology there involved being able to use the filmstrip projector and rewinding movies without grinding gears. After coming to Eastern, I remember both the celebration at the arrival of our first departmental copy machine and awe at the first departmental computer—which faculty were sternly advised not to touch, since only the office staff had been trained to use it properly. Now, I’m ending my career teaching graduate students completely online. What an amazing ride it has been!


I’ve had opportunities to fill various roles at Eastern, but regardless of my role, at heart I’ve always been a teacher. When I was an undergraduate, and roles for women were beginning to expand, I had several people suggest that I was “too smart” to be a teacher or that I could do more for women’s rights by choosing a different path. Even then, I knew they were wrong. What could I do that was more important than making sure children had a supportive and interesting place to learn? I still believe that. There is nothing on the planet more important than the children, and other than parenting, no role more important than that of teacher. I have been able to spend more than 45 years being a teacher, preparing teachers, and working with teachers. What more could I ask?  I am grateful I’ve been able to spend my professional life doing something I value so deeply. Still, I’m looking forward to filling this next chapter with new adventures: post-COVID travel, art-making, storytelling, volunteer work, and play dates with all my favorite people, young and not-so-young.



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