At the end of a long workday in March of 2016, Mississippi State University lecturer Karly Lyons opened her inbox to glance over her non-work-related emails. The words, "The President and Mrs. Obama" caught her eye, and upon opening the message, she read her presence was requested at the White House.
At first, Lyons wrote off the email as a scam. Several correspondences later, she was contacted by phone call inquiring why she had not accepted the president's invitation. The invitation was authentic after all, and after searching, "what to wear to the White House," Lyons attended the 2016 Teacher of the Year ceremony as a guest for the Ohio Department of Education.
Lyons was working as a special education teacher at the time, and this experience helped give her the confidence to apply for the Ph.D. program she is currently in at MSU.
Lyons taught kindergarten through 12th grade for 15 years in Cambridge, Ohio. However, she sensed a different calling for herself — to be a college professor.
She is the highest educated member of her family as a first-generation college graduate but said receiving her doctorate would allow her to achieve her dreams of teaching at a collegiate level.
Lyons currently has a teaching assistantship here at MSU where she teaches geoscience courses. She said her favorite course to teach is Survey of Earth Science.
"If I could teach this class every single day for the rest of my life, I would be a happy camper. I love it," Lyons said.
Lyons' immense passion for what she does along with her love of people shape every part of her life, especially her teaching style.
Tricia LePage, one of Lyons' best friends and former co-worker in Ohio, said Lyons has a unique relationship with students and places a high importance on them attending class.
"She called me when she first went back this year, and she was like kind of down," LePage said. "I was like, 'What is wrong?' and she said, 'Well, only like 79 kids of my 130 showed up for class today.'"
LePage explained Lyons takes it personally when her students do not show up. She does not want them to be there because they are just getting their participation points; Lyons wants them to enjoy being there.
However, Lyons' heart for others extends far beyond the four walls of her classroom. She has fostered kids, boarded exchange students, coached volleyball teams, had a dog sitting business, has helped with political campaigns and volunteers.
As a special education teacher, Lyons has learned that experiences and surroundings are crucial to each individual's personal development. She believes with strong support systems, people will tend to do the right thing.
"I think everybody has good in them, and I think you can find good in anybody," Lyons said. "I think it is just circumstances, and people's environments play a big role in some of the decisions that they make. But I do not know if I believe that there are really bad, evil people."
Renee Clary, Lyons' advisor and a fellow geoscience professor at MSU, said she has seen Lyons thrive in the classroom both as a student and an instructor.
"She walks into every class wanting to make sure that the lesson is fun and that it is engaging," Clary said.
Clary also said Lyons is everything professors want to inspire students to be. Lyons' love for learning shows in her teaching and in every facet of her life.
Lyons said she hopes getting her doctorate will be worth all the hardships and being away from her husband. She wants to finish because she wants her husband to know how appreciative she is of him and his support.
"When I finish, I am going to say 'when,' because I am going to finish. I love my husband, and our wedding day was beautiful. But I think the best day of my life will be the day that I get hooded on stage," Lyons said. "And I want to wear the fancy hat."