Why We are Thankful – 2016

We talked to our friends and colleagues about what they are thankful for this season. There were both unique situations that people described and consistent themes. We’ll start, though, by letting them tell us what they see. – JMS and MKD


Photo by Benjamin Edney.

Just some of the things I’m thankful for…

  • I’m thankful to be back in the classroom doing what I love – teaching – and not out on the picket line getting sunburned, wet, stressed, and achy.
  • I’m thankful to our union and to our colleagues who walked that picket line with us. And I’m thankful that our union was successful in its strike, compromising, yes, but preserving the quality of our universities and our students’ educations by taking a stand.
  • I’m thankful to our governor for stepping in and helping with the negotiation of our tentative contract agreement.
  • I’m thankful to Paul Woodburne for writing a great thank-you letter to the students.
  • And I’m thankful to and for my students and their support…and for the way they grow, learn, and surprise me every semester.

– Melissa K. Downes, English

Dan Clark's students extracting camphoric acid.

Dan Clark’s students extracting camphoric acid.

At this point in every year I am so thankful to see how much my lab students have grown and learned. At the beginning of the term there’s so much apprehension; by the end, there is so much confidence!

– Dan Clark, Chemistry

It is so much easier to count what to complain about rather than what to be thankful for these days. Between the strike and the election, the attack on higher education in general and the arts in education specifically, and uncertainties in administrations, budgets and the like, it seems difficult to find the sunshine in the gray November approaching winter.


Scene from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Photo by Myra Bullington.

And then, there are the students. Most recently I watched the cast of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead as they participated in a “talk back session” with the attendees of their high school matinee performance. Despite getting up at what was no doubt an ungodly hour for college students in order to be ready for the 9:15 AM curtain, after having had a performance and an American College Theatre Festival response the night before, these young people displayed energy and optimism and indeed wholehearted affection for their craft, their department, and their institution.

Perhaps it is naïveté. Perhaps it is ultimately wisdom. In the old chestnut of musical theatre, The King and I by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Anna, an English school teacher to the children of the king of Siam says, “by your pupils you’ll be taught.” Indeed, I was schooled by students as they answered questions and recounted their process in the creation of their work. But I am grateful to them for modeling to me what is important. To bloom where we are planted. To create and spread joy wherever possible. To follow one’s passions with vigor. I am blessed to have been able to and thankful to continue to be able to do exactly that.

– Mel Michel, Theatre


James Bowers, trying new approaches to engage his students.

I am thankful to be able to mentor students and give them a heads up in the job market. I would not be where I am today without caring professors.

Some of my GIS students got full rides to graduate school based on the work they did mapping crime in Saginaw. That makes it all worthwhile. I like preparing students for masters programs, even when they don’t want to go! I like giving back to the community and working with Saginaw Police Departments to understand crime and crime predictors.

A theme I’m seeing is mentoring students and community service. My use of iPads is about trying new things. I’m in a department / college that does not like the new and innovative, but I live for the moments when we lose track of time in class because of the right ‘flow.’

I like teaching, research, and service…and they often overlap nicely.

– James Bowers, Clarion Psychology ’05
Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Saginaw Valley State University


Elisabeth Sauvage-Callaghan

‘Tis the season to be thankful and, even though I am always grateful for my students, in the month of November I usually take a moment to reflect upon the reasons for this gratitude. Here they are:

  • My students keep me on my pedagogical toes and help me stretch the limits of my teaching creativity. “How,” I constantly ask myself “can I ignite those kid’s passion for learning?” “How can I expose them to, and make them learn and practice French in the most authentic way?” And “how can I expand their cultural horizon?”
  • It’s incredibly rewarding to see my students begin their college journey with trepidation – sometimes stumbling along the way – and finally graduate as mature young men and women ready to tackle the “real” world.
  • They are a smart, funny, diverse, kind, and thoughtful bunch, and I love them to bits.

Many of my students end up becoming great friends – for years after their graduation from Clarion University. And I get to be their kids’ Honorary Grandma!

– Elisabeth Sauvage-Callaghan, French


Emily Pardee’s skateboard parking lot.

So there’s this kid who really seems underprepared for this level math course. The chair suggests I turn him over to “Academic Success.” Instead, I talk to him privately after the first exam. No, he doesn’t have any friends in the class to go over the homework. But maybe he can stay for my extra study hour…..

After next exam … Oh that sunrise of a smile at the sight of a solid C.

And there’s this other kid whose attendance is good but he watches me without ever cracking a notebook or lifting a pencil. After plummeting from a D to an F I talk to him privately about needing to try to write as a way to engage his thinking. Tears begin to leak out, so I send him off for a cool-down walk while I decide this time to enlist the aid of “Academic Success.”

Two days later an accommodations letter (the provisions are, unsurprisingly, consistent with dyslexia) for that student arrives in my inbox. The kid is smiling and happy and willing to engage in class. For the next two activity sessions I pair the students up and only require one paper turned in from each pair. Once again, sunshine.

– Emily Pardee, retired, Mathematics, Edinboro University
now at University of the Pacific, Stockton


Jeanne Slattery and Shania

I like fighting for the underdog. I especially like doing so when that underdog is also actively fighting to meet his or her goals. I’ve been thinking about three students lately – Nikki, Shania, and Diana – who epitomize everything I’m thankful for. Each of them has become successful here, but it was an uphill battle. Each of them has ended up in my office in tears on more than one occasion, but each kept on fighting, even when it was hard.

Shania, for example, was in tears the first several times I met her. We talked about work/life balance and how to handle her family better. The next time she came to see me she was smiling – and she seems to be smiling more and more frequently. She’s tutoring our students in Statistics and getting kudos from the students she’s working with.

Some students would like a magic wand so that everything will magically get better. With each of these students, they and I worked together as a team. These three students recognized that there was help available – and also considered what they could do to make a difference. They have been willing to let college affect them and, although they have taken different paths, each has been successful in her own way.

– Jeanne Slattery, Psychology

In case you missed the theme, we are thankful for our students. Every day.

And we’re just as thankful for the work you do for our students. Every day.

This entry was posted in State of the university, Teaching and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why We are Thankful – 2016

  1. Ray feroz says:

    I am thankful for my colleagues. They make being on the faculty here the best job on earth!

    Liked by 1 person

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