Patricia Akin Heim (B.A. ’49) is grateful that she attended UCLA in the late 1940s. “It was a time of great happiness for me and for many because the war was over, our boys were home, and you could attend classes and work hard without feeling the weight of the world on your shoulder,” she says.
Born in the Midwest during the Great Depression, Pat’s parents, seeking better opportunities in California, moved the family to Burbank when she was a young girl. Pat attended Burbank High School and graduated among a class of 300 students. Receiving a scholarship to attend the University of Redlands, Pat enrolled there as a freshman in the fall of 1945. After living on campus for one year and becoming a member of the Spurs Honor’s Society, she decided to transfer to UCLA at the end of her freshman year. Reflecting on this decision, Pat recalls,
“Money was scarce. I didn’t get the housing I had wanted and two of my close friends had both dropped out, one to marry and one to go to nursing school. I had good feelings about UCLA and it was much cheaper to attend. I transferred and was delighted by my decision.”
At UCLA, Pat commuted to campus from her home in Burbank during her sophomore year and then lived in the University YMCA co-op on Hilgard Avenue for her junior and senior years. “It was a very casual, home-like place to live,” Pat reflects. Under the guidance of the House Mother, Mrs. Miller, Pat and the other members of the co-op performed regular chores and other house duties. On Mondays and Fridays Pat would set the table and on Wednesdays she would assist in the cooking of meals. All together, it cost $6 per week to live on campus, which included all meals, entertainment, and living expenses.
“The co-op was both an active social environment and an economical place to live,” Pat
explains. “We threw lots of parties and events and they were cheaper to live in than the sororities.” Pat remembers spending many hours singing around the piano and developing close friendships with the other women and men in the house. While women members lived in the co-op, the men lived mostly in private homes in the area. In addition to her chores at the co-op, Pat worked in the library throughout her time at UCLA, helping to offset the cost of tuition, which she remembers as being $27 per semester.
As for the intellectual environment at UCLA, Pat describes the university as being very racially and culturally integrated, “even in those days,” she says. In addition, “the service men at UCLA who had come back from the war were so worldly and had interesting and varied perspectives that they brought to the classroom.” Having grown up playing teacher with her friends as a young girl and having a mother who was an educator, Pat says she always wanted to teach. Considering her decision to major in education while at UCLA, Pat explains, “I had such wonderful teachers growing up and never really thought of doing anything else.”
Pat remembers the education curriculum as being very comprehensive for aspiring teachers.
“[The curriculum] offered an integrated look at the teaching techniques of the day and gave you broad exposure to a number of subject matters and topics,” she says.
In their junior and senior year, Pat explains, education majors took several 330 classes in social studies, art, music, math, science, and physical education. While classroom management techniques were somewhat lacking from the training, Pat says, the well-rounded education she received prepared her well for her career in the classroom. Looking back, she reflects, “It was a very worthwhile experience.”
In the second semester of her junior year, Pat took Education 330 with her fellow education classmates and prepared her version of the famous “Seeds Box,” named after elementary education director Corinne Seeds. A mandatory assignment for all elementary education majors, the Seeds Box was a box of lesson plans and classroom artifacts that each student had to create surrounding a selected topic or theme. Pat and her partner classmates chose the Hopi Indians for their Seeds Box theme and created a “Hopi Chest,” complete with lesson plans for each subject – math, science, social studies, and language arts – pottery reflecting the style and design of the Hopi Indians, and other classroom materials.
“The Seeds Box required extensive research into a topic and creativity to bring the lessons to life,” Pat reflects. “It was a valuable exercise for getting you to think in new ways about how to be an effective teacher.”
The senior year education curriculum included in-class observations and teacher training, which Pat conducted at a small school in Santa Monica and at West Los Angeles Elementary. She graduated in the spring of 1949 with her entire family in attendance, including her aunts and uncles, who drove to Westwood for the celebration. Hers was the last class to graduate in the amphitheater, which was located on the site where the medical school stands today.
Happily, Pat had no trouble finding a job after graduation. “I had good credentials and applied to four school districts – San Diego, Santa Monica, Burbank and Los Angeles – and got job offers in each,” she remembers. Choosing to return to Burbank to be close to her family and friends, she took a job at Edison Elementary School.
“My first year of teaching was rough,” Pat recalls. “The principal allowed all of the problem kids to be put together into one class, and I was stuck with some really challenging students.”
Fortunately, she found support from her colleagues. Pat’s training teacher from UCLA came to Burbank at the same time that she started at Edison and became Pat’s supervisor. A substitute teacher in the district had also been Pat’s third grade teacher. She enjoyed returning to a community that had helped to cultivate her own love of learning and was pleased to start her career there. While teaching full-time, Pat also went to Cal State-Northridge, where she received her Master’s degree and supervisory credential.
Pat had several happy and successful years teaching in Burbank, but in 1960, because her elderly parents lived in San Diego County, it seemed sensible to go there to teach. She was offered a temporary assistant principal position in La Mesa, but decided to return to the classroom in San Diego, where she taught for three years.
Throughout this period, Pat became involved with her local church, which, through a national church organization, sent summer workers to help in various mission locations around the world. Interested in gaining teaching and life experience overseas, Pat decided to participate and was sent to a teacher’s training school in Ibague, Colombia, for the summer. At the end of this service, she was invited to return to teaching as a member of the national church organization’s staff. But, with an urgent need for a teacher at a girl’s high school in Sudan, she was placed there, instead.
Though Pat had anxiety about living and working in such an unknown place, by the fall of 1963, she found herself teaching English and Social Studies at the Evangelical Girls High School on the outskirts of Khartoum, where she taught for three years. Founded in 1908, the school was the first in the country to offer an education to girls.
In the mid 1960s, Sudan was in the midst of its first civil war and was undergoing major political and social change. Pat describes the intensity of that period,
“One day I was teaching class and you could hear gunshots in the distance. A student looked at me and saw the fear in my eyes and tried to reassure me. ‘Don’t worry, Miss Akin,’ she said. ‘It’s just some revolution fighters in Khartoum.’”
Although she left the Sudan in 1966 when the political disturbances became more severe, she developed a close relationship with many of her students and remained in contact with them for several years.
Upon leaving Sudan, Pat returned to her position in the San Diego City Schools and to old friends and activities. In 1968, she married a long-time friend, Ray Heim, who had also recently returned from teaching over-seas, in Ecuador. The couple having decided to start a family, Pat chose to resign from teaching for awhile to raise her children.
When their daughter, Kristin, was in school, Pat was convinced by former teacher friends in the district to come back to work, first as an aide, then as a tutor. Ultimately, she went back to teaching full time, working at the junior high level, particularly with new immigrant students from Latin America, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Pat found this work especially rewarding, as her students were some of the most eager and ambitious learners she ever encountered in the classroom.
Now retired, Pat remains involved in her local church, where, until recently, she was coordinator for the senior ministry group. She and her husband Ray live in their home in San Diego, where they enjoy the company of family and friends.