Friday, March 5, 2021
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Looking Back on 25 (or 28) Years of Teaching at Penn State


Somewhere deep in my personnel file at Penn State, is the date of August 5, 2020.  That’s the day I hit 25 years. In just a few days, I will celebrate working at Penn State University for a quarter of a century.

It’s actually 28 years, but who’s counting?

In 1992 I had a toddler and a 6-week old newborn at home. My job at the time had turned into administrative headaches, stress and a total lack of joy. I had been promoted and promoted again which essentially removed me from the reasons I entered my profession in the first place. After many heartfelt conversations while I was on maternity leave, my husband and I decided that it wasn’t worth me going back to work. The costs – childcare, stress, impact on our family – were just not worth the benefits. I made the appointment to meet with my boss to tell him the news.

I received what I have called  a “divine intervention” phone call from a member of my master’s thesis committee on the day before I was scheduled to meet with my boss to tell him that I was leaving. Out of the blue, he called to ask “Is there any chance that you could help us out by teaching a few classes?”  

Thank you, Universe. It just so happened I was going to have all the time in the world.

And so with a 6-week-old baby, a toddler and the Grandmas lined up to help out on my two teaching days each week, I walked into my first college classroom as an instructor. I had 10 years of experience in the field but my teaching experience at that time was limited to professional presentations, trainings and staff orientations, and a little bit of assistant teaching as a graduate student.

Talk about the imposter syndrome. I remember thinking  that if someone had told me when I was an undergraduate that I would someday be a university faculty member, I would have asked what they were smoking

I look back to those days and smile.  So much has changed in the way the university operates since 1992. 

I have changed so much since 1992.

I started out as an adjunct instructor; I taught the classes where they had holes for instructors. That eventually led to a part-time contract and, I think, the start of my “years-on-the-job” employment clock. Then came a full-time offer. After a few years, senior instructor. Then the university changed the system and I became an assistant teaching professor.  And then last year, associate teaching professor.

I didn’t have an office at first. I eventually was assigned an office to share with a grad student on the now non-existent bridge between Henderson Building and South Henderson. My next office was a former closet in the Mateer Building. I now have one of the big corner offices on the seventh floor of the Ford Building (the old BAB building). The huge windows and campus view are one of the best parts of my working day.

I also didn’t have a parking pass in those early days. I parked in the downtown parking garage. There were quite a few funny moments with me running to my car at lunch or in between classes to pump for my newborn. My first parking pass was in the Orange Lot out in what was then Parking Lot 80. When I got my Green pass, it felt like winning the lottery. It’s funny how perspective changes.  Today, I find myself whining when the lot next to Ford is full and I have to walk the half-block from the Nittany Parking Deck. Walking in from the tundra of Lot 80 is now just a faint memory.

In 2020, my office is now my living room and my car doesn’t leave my driveway.

Oh, as they say, how things have changed.

I’ve made it through at, four (4) university Presidents, six (6) Deans and five (5) Department Heads.  The College has changed names twice and my department has changed name four times. 

There have been three (3) head football coaches.

There is a before and after the Sandusky scandal, just like there will hopefully be a before and after of the COVID-19 virus.

I started out with a brown grade book that I bought at the bookstore. I meticulously wrote each assignment grade in the book and then used a hand calculator to tabulate end of semester final grades.  I bought a set of red pens that first semester. I later learned that marking a paper with red is “aggressive” and allegedly demeaning to the students. Now all of that is done on fancy course management programs on the internet.

Add “no red pens” to the list of the many things I’ve learned teaching undergraduate students for 28 years. In 2020, I added Zoom to that list.

In 25 years, I’ve been able to travel. Conferences. Presentations. The experience I brought to Penn State was valued and respected both on and off campus. Some of those highlights have been the trainings we developed for helping military recreation personnel make their programs more inclusive to people with disabilities. A course I developed introduces students to the resort industry and includes a trip to visit some very cool resorts during the semester. The course that followed that did the same thing with students and the cruise industry.

I had the opportunity to help design and develop our Student Success Center. We have been the leaders at the department level in setting up a physical space for students to engage with each other and with faculty and staff. Some students call it their “living room.” As the needs of students and expectations of universities have changed, being able to interact with students informally in the student success center can often help us pick up on potential issues.

If anything, I have learned that being willing to raise your hand and say “I’ll do it” pays off. I have been allowed to be – encouraged to be — creative, to contribute and to bring new ideas to the table. Eventually, they even started to give me some administrative tasks

Working with industry partners as the department’s internship coordinator has been in the top five of “Best Things About My Job.”

Rounding out that top five are the flexibility in scheduling that made my job family friendly, the employment benefits, that tuition discount, and finally – and most importantly – the people. I have worked with so many amazing people.

The best part of my job, without a doubt, has been the students.  

Over the years, students have remained pretty much the same. People often want to blast the younger generation and call them lazy or entitled or snowflakes. Some are without question lazy, entitled snowflakes but the majority are amazing, dedicated, energetic young people who want to connect and learn and be a part of the university and contribute to the global community.  

Have there been things that weren’t so great? Every job has them. The occasional administrator who made it hard to be a non-tenure track contributor. Office politics. Watching young people make decisions that you know will change their life forever and not being able to help or stop them. The increasing involvement of parents in their student’s lives – from wanting to sit in on advising meetings to calls when they’ve only heard one side of the story. Bureaucracy that at times seems to want to feed itself with more bureaucracy.

The good obviously outweighed the bad or I wouldn’t have made it to 28 years.  

To my former students, I’m still pretty tough in the classroom. I still don’t take late papers. I still make students sing in front of the class if they are late. I still view my role as one to help you be successful in a job setting as well as to meet the learning objectives. I might be a little more approachable, a little more flexible and a little more understanding than I was in those first years. Thanks for giving me the gift of being part of your lives. You have all been amazing. To watch the lights click on when you see the connection to your career goals. To watch you land that amazing internship and then launch your career.  Watching you on social media as you take the next step in your post Penn State journey; promotions, life partners, your own children and your continued connection to Penn State.   

Twenty-five (or 28) years and counting.