64 Parishes

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The Power of Passion

When asked about her greatest achievement, Dr. Patricia Austin, this year’s recipient of the Light Up for Literacy Award, didn’t list a job title, accolade, or something that shines on a CV. 

“It’s people that stand out,” recalled Dr. Austin. “The people who come into my classes, both at elementary school and in college, and say, ‘Oh, I never really did like reading’ . . . when they left my class, they did.” 

The Light Up for Literacy Award, given in partnership with the State Library of Louisiana’s Center for the Book, honors those who have gone above and beyond to bring the joy of reading to everyone in the state. Dr. Austin has done just that with a career spanning twenty years as an elementary school teacher, thirty-one years in higher education, and twenty years as the curator for the Children’s Literature Collection at the University of New Orleans. 

The secret of her success? True to the title of the award, it’s lighting up for literature. 

“I can only tell you what students have told me: its my own passion,” noted Dr. Austin. “I was passionate about literature and they caught it.”  

In addition to impacting her students, that passion for books has fueled her commitment to service. In the summer of 2012, Edward Hynes Charter School in New Orleans asked for Dr. Austin’s help developing their library collection. Rather than purchase a predetermined collection, she elected to voluntarily curate Hynes’s library from the ground up. 

“I wanted this to be the best collection anywhere,” explained Dr. Austin. With the help of a few graduate students, Dr. Austin surveyed the faculty at Hynes to create a wish list with titles reflective of the school’s standards, curriculum, and celebrations. The completed collection includes 21,000 volumes. Dr. Austin estimates it took six hundred voluntary hours shared primarily between her and the school’s librarian. 

“And we loved it,” she shared with a laugh. 

Today, 91 percent of students at the school are reading at or above grade level, in part thanks to Dr. Austin’s generosity and expertise. “Her vision for excellence, knowledge, and service has provided Hynes a gift that keeps on giving,” explained Dr. Michelle B. Douglas, CEO of Hynes Charter School. 

Dr. Austin retired in fall 2020, though she will continue to curate the Children’s Literature Collection at UNO.  

Morgan Randall is a writer exploring the relationships between people, the environment, and business. You can find her at morandall.com.