If you tuned into the 93rd Academy Awards this past Sunday, you may have seen a familiar face during a commercial break: UNC Charlotte alumnus Wil Loesel ’18. Loesel was featured in a Verizon ad celebrating individuals who used the network “to do amazing things and overcome challenging hardships” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March 2020, Loesel’s first year as a teacher following a decade and a half in the corporate sector, he was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Instead of taking medical leave, he remained fully committed to his students, teaching through chemotherapy from his hospital bed.
A second career
After 15 years in corporate America, Loesel, a first-generation college student, was looking for a change. He wanted to further his education, which he didn’t have the opportunity to do after high school and ultimately wanted to find a position where he could help others on a daily basis. His quest for a change led him to UNC Charlotte and eventually the field of education.
“I was inspired by the other students,” Loesel said. “Seeing how focused so many of them were at a young age, motivated me to study harder.”
He was also inspired by his incredible professors, who supported him on his nontraditional journey. Loesel was setting an example for his two young sons about the importance and value of education.
After graduation, he started looking for a position that would make him feel proud at the end of the day, while allowing him to provide for his family. He was leaning toward social work when he listened to a podcast by Wendy Kopp, CEO and co-founder of Teach For America. Loesel was intrigued and excited by her passion for education and for helping underserved children. He found what he was looking for, a teaching career.
“To be honest, I had no preference for a specific grade level,” said Loesel. “I knew I could find something beautiful in any grade and any subject.”
He embraced his new role, teaching eighth grade math at Albemarle Road Middle School, which is part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Loesel admits that the first half of the year was challenging. “Being an effective teacher is difficult,” he said. “Teaching takes a lot of commitment.”
'Of course I was going to keep teaching'
Just as he was hitting his stride, the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading across the United States, forcing him and his colleagues to start teaching remotely. A week into this “new normal,” he received news that would change his life once again. He was diagnosed with stage four Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“The timing of my diagnosis couldn’t have been any better,” said Loesel. “If I was going to get cancer, this was the time to get it. I didn’t miss time from class. As the pandemic hit, everything changed anyway.”
He started treatment immediately and never stopped teaching. He used Zoom to teach from his hospital room and kept in touch with students and colleagues via email. “It wasn’t a decision to keep teaching,” he said. “Of course, I was going to keep teaching.”
UNC Charlotte honored Loesel by dedicating a one-time Evergreen student award in his honor to cover the entire unmet need for a rising, nontraditional senior. He was also recognized this past May with a $25K gift from Box Tops for Education on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Loesel’s treatment was successful, and he has continued teaching. “When you have a positive attitude, positive things happen,” he said. “You still have to move forward. This is your life. The only life you are going to have. You have to move forward.”