Educated Woman of the Week- Naomi Watkins

Where are you going to school and what do you study?
B.A. in English Education at Brigham Young University,
M.Ed. in Language and Literacy at Arizona State University,
Ph.D. in Teaching & Learning: Literacy at University of Utah

Tell us about your school/work life: I’m an educational leader, women’s advocate, and community builder. After graduating from BYU, I taught middle school English in the Phoenix area and earned my master’s degree while I was teaching. I had always wanted to earn a graduate degree, and I returned to school because I wanted to better learn how to help my students with their reading challenges. Graduate school opened a new world of inquiry to me, and I realized that I wanted to be in a space where I could better effect real change in schools. So I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in adolescent literacy. After graduation, I worked as an assistant professor in the Greater Los Angeles area training teachers and researching how to improve adolescent literacy and language pedagogy. My research has been published in a variety of journals such as The Reading Teacher, Journal of Children’s Literature, TESOL Journal, and Middle School Journal, and I have presented in state, national, and international venues. However, after a couple of years in academia, I decided that I felt too far removed from the K-12 education system; I wanted to have a more hands-on experience making positive changes. So I left my tenure-track position and returned to Utah. Currently I develop and implement school-wide initiatives to improve teachers’ literacy and language instruction at a Title I high school in the Salt Lake City area.

In June 2013, I cofounded Aspiring Mormon Women, a 501c3 nonprofit organization that supports and encourages Latter-day Saint women’s professional and educational pursuits. Aspiring Mormon Women was born from my experiences pursuing higher education as a Mormon woman and my belief that when provided examples, models, connection, and support, women find empowerment to pursue their personal goals. The organization provides capacity building, networking, and mentoring on an international scale through online content and in-person events to LDS women who are high school age, who are in college, who are working, or who are desiring to return to school or the workforce.

So really, I am all about helping individuals realize who they are and what they can become.


Tell us about your life outside of school/work:
I grew up in a suburb of San Diego, and I have a great love for the outdoors, so I spend a good portion of my time hiking, backpacking, and camping when the weather allows; I’m not a big fan of wintertime. I love learning about and exploring new things and places–finding that hidden gem of a restaurant, visiting a museum, watching independent films, having a vigorous discussion with friends, traveling to a new city. The world is such a marvelous place and offers so much! I also spend time reading, writing, exercising, and spending time with family.

Are there any books or other resources that have particularly helped you reach this level of awesomeness?
When I was contemplating leaving academia, I hired a career coach who had me complete the StrengthsFinder assessment. While I knew that I had certain strengths, this assessment provided me with the language to pinpoint and describe them. It was the first time that I could really see why I needed to make a career change because the environment that I was in did not play to my strengths. It allowed me to see myself in a different light.

I’m also a big fan of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. This book is actually a workbook with 12 weeks of exercises to help you discover your creative self and to overcome the obstacles that get in your way. It’s hard, but valuable work that requires a lot of vulnerability and honesty with yourself. I’m actually starting the 12 weeks again because I found so much value in the process.

How did you know your path or decide your current path?
I’m still figuring out my path, and I think that’s true of most people. I am an activator, achievor, learner, and futurist, so I spend probably too much time visioning what’s ahead and how I can get there. I also am one who will try a variety of paths and methods and see what sticks. Quite often, my path is shaped because certain doors close. But I’ve also had vivid moments in my life where my path is quite clear, where things quickly fall into place. These moments, however, usually come as I’ve been working and I’m currently in motion. They do not happen if I’m simply waiting around for things to happen.

Who do you go to for support when you feel really vulnerable?
When I was a PhD student, I was part of a writers group with other female PhD students. We would read in-progress dissertations and manuscripts, bounce off ideas, complain, provide emotional support, etc to each other. That group was invaluable to me during that time. So I’m a big proponent of having a support group, particularly of women, who is not family. It’s one of the main reasons I cofounded Aspiring Mormon Women. Sharing vulnerabilities with other women in a safe space is truly a key to my successes–and the successes of so many others.

Depending on the support that I need, I turn to different individuals. Of course, my family knows me in ways that most do not, so I go to them often because I know they love me regardless of what I’ve done or haven’t done.

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