Gwyn Elizabeth Lewis committed her life and career to social justice in education, guided by her compassion and joy in working with children and students from all cultures. She died on May 26 at her home in Fort Collins, Colo., where she had been working as a STEM instructor for Play-Well TEKnologies. Born on March 4, 1982, in Healdsburg, Calif., she was 38 years old.
Gwyn had a gift for languages and was a fearless traveler of the world. She had a passport full of stamps from her journeys across Asia and beyond. Her passion for understanding the differences between how diverse cultures learn and communicate fueled her career.
This passion started early when she was chosen to be a Rotary International exchange student to Mumbai, India. After a year living in India, she graduated from Pagosa Springs High School, Colo., in 2000.
At the University of Colorado, Boulder, Gwyn continued to pursue her interests earning a bachelor of arts degree in both international affairs and Asian studies with a minor in Mandarin Chinese. For several years, she coordinated the International Conference on World Affairs hosted annually by the university before graduating magna cum laude with distinction in 2005.
In 2008, Gwyn moved to Shenzhen, China, where she was a teacher and on-site coordinator with the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTLC) with Peking University. During her five years in Shenzhen, she quickly became a leader of the program as the primary liaison between teachers, public schools, the CTLC and the Shenzhen City Education Bureau, often conversing only in Chinese.
Returning to the United States, Gwyn earned a master of science degree in urban and multicultural education at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, N.Y., in 2013. While at the college, she was an adjunct professor of international studies, ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) instructor of international students at the college, and an ELS (English as a Second Language) assistant instructor at a nearby elementary school.
Later at the University of Arizona, Tucson, she was a Ph.D. graduate student and teaching assistant in language, reading and culture with an emphasis on inclusive education and linguistics. She genuinely respected others’ traditions and backgrounds and worked to bridge language and cultures.
Gwyn traveled with an open heart. She loved discovering what was around the next corner and would wander the cities and villages rather than spend her time seeing the known tourist destinations. She wanted to talk with the people to understand them, their lives and their culture — somehow communicating beyond any language barriers. It was not unusual for her to stop by the open fire of a family cooking dinner outside their home and start a conversation. The exchange would go from there to a shared meal.
Gwyn enthusiastically shared her insight and global perspective with fellow teachers and students of all ages from all over the world. In Tucson, she was a volunteer teacher with the Native American Summer Institute at the university. She was also an English-class coordinator and teacher for immigrant families for the Iskashitaa Refugee Network, helping refugees from Nepal and Somalia.
Before moving to Fort Collins, Gwyn worked in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, as an English teacher with the Global Leadership University.
Gwyn found peace in the outdoors, especially the Colorado Rockies. She loved snowboarding, rock climbing, the aspen trees through the seasons and laughingly telling stories over the campfire. She was an avid reader, exceptional at card games and a fan of both the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. She always felt at home watching the sun set over a baseball game with her family.
She was an enrolled tribal member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and is survived by her loving parents, Roger Lewis and Elizabeth (Lissa) Hartzell, and brother Harlan Lewis.
In lieu of flowers, her family asks that donations in honor of Gwyn Lewis be made to Planned Parenthood and/or a food bank serving children and their families.