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Xavier Magazine | March 30, 2017

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Lessons Learned

Challenging Viewpoints: Trudelle Thomas, English

When I signed up for the class, I remember hearing from friends that the professor, Trudelle Thomas, had a slight reputation as a “feminist.” That term might have been passé then; it’s certainly archaic now. Whether Thomas would dispute that label, I do not know. But I was a 19-year-old male student, and this idle talk convinced me that I would not like her or her course, and that I would hardly learn anything I needed to know. I never even entertained the idea that she might have any lasting influence on my life.

I was emphatically wrong. She did not teach by pushing ideologies down the throats of impressionable underclassmen, nor did she spout off riffs from her own personal manifesto on how things in the world should be. What she did do was challenge me more than any teacher I had, not only to excel in communicating my viewpoints effectively, but also to understand why I thought what I thought in the first place, and to have confidence in my own voice.

But Thomas did something else for me that I value even more. She helped me to identify and pursue what I consider to be my vocation: writing. As a direct consequence of her course, I became interested in writing, expressing my thoughts and ideas on paper. And, because she insisted we keep a journal, I also discovered my creative impulses in a new light. I went into the military following graduation, but I never forgot her course or her influence.

Seven years after taking her course, and with her help, I hasten to add, I enrolled in graduate school to study creative writing. Today I have a Master of Fine Arts degree, and writing is a daily part of my life. I still think of her when I think about why I bother trying to write, and I have a feeling she would be disappointed if I ever gave up the craft I love.

I am now 33 years old with a wife and daughter. I have published an essay in a national magazine, and I am very grateful to Thomas for her faith in me. Perhaps the best tribute to her influence lies in the fact that today, more than 12 years later, I still think about her energy, spirit, intelligence and compassion. I remember her class; I remember her voice, her gestures and her assignments. I doubt I will ever forget her as a teacher or person-and I can think of no better tribute to an educator.
Jude Joseph Lovell ’92 BA, writer

Going For It: Carol Tatham, Management

I was a senior at Xavier doing some interviews for my potential career in retail management, and one of the interviews was with Toys R Us. Prior to the interview I felt sick, but I was told that it was just butterflies and I should go on in and show them what I was made of. Well, evidently I wasn’t made of much. I went into the interview and proceeded to vomit.

About a week later, I was preparing to give a speech and was feeling really nervous. My professor, Carol Tatham, called on me to be the first presenter. What luck. I explained that I would rather not go first, and she said to me, “Chelle, you have thrown up all over someone who was interviewing you not just for a job, but for your potential career. What could be more embarrassing than that? Now that you have your life’s most embarrassing moment out of the way, go for it.”

I hadn’t told her of my interviewing mishap, so obviously I was a laughingstock and topic of gossip on campus. I can’t remember what my grade was, but I did go for it and did fine.

I have gone for it every day since and until recently was the vice president of operations at a local marketing research firm. I am now an independent marketing research coordinator. Tatham was in marketing research and in a later discussion shared her excitement for her field, another piece of advice that shaped my life.
Chelle Precht ’85 BSBA, marketing research coordinator

Commitment: John LaRocca, S.J., History

The person I am today is due to John LaRocca, S.J., and his penchant for pasta. Each Friday he would open his Kuhlman Hall apartment to students and cook a pasta dinner for whoever arrived with a fork and plate in hand. Well into the first semester of my sophomore year, I had yet to declare a major. While leaning toward history, I wanted to take the Western Civilization class without actually declaring history as my major. The only catch was that I needed the professor’s permission to enroll in the class, because it was reserved for history majors only. The professor was LaRocca, and he scared the beejeebers out of me.

Eventually, on a fall Friday in 1997, I found myself sitting on the couch in LaRocca’s living room, eating pasta and building up my courage to ask for his permission. I remember his large brown eyes reflecting an odd combination of weariness and humor staring back at me as he very succinctly stated that if I wanted to take his honors history class, I had to commit to a decision and declare the major.

I am defined by the number of professors at Xavier who taught me to think, to analyze, to question and to listen. Professors I met because of a two-minute conversation over pasta, and professors who taught me to take a chance.
Joan M. French ’99 BAU, Assistant Counsel for the Department of the U.S. Navy, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command

Self-worth and Balance: Kent Anger, Psychology

I didn’t attend college immediately after high school. No one in my family ever had, and it seemed to be an out-of-reach option for one of 10 kids of a steel mill worker living on a small farm in Indiana. So, in 1973 I went to a technical school for a year and a half to learn some marketable skills, then got married and settled into a routine as a housewife with a preschooler and a part-time job.

My husband, however, was college-educated with a graduate degree, and as the years began to pass, I thought more and more about going back to school and having a meaningful career of my own. I enrolled part time as a non-traditional student at Edgecliff College, which merged with Xavier just before I graduated. I didn’t really fit in with the younger student population very well, but I was determined to be there and did well in my classes. My son, who was 2 years old when I began, tagged along with me, spending many happy hours playing in the dorm with his student babysitters. I took a few classes each semester and made steady progress.

Eventually, to meet my social science requirement I enrolled in an experimental psychology class led by an adjunct faculty member, Kent Anger. I loved it-I couldn’t get enough of the class or the topic. Anger recognized and encouraged my enthusiasm, supplying me with journal readings, discussing his research efforts and inviting me to attend local research seminars. I decided to double-major in psychology and biology, and increased my course load so that I could take every available offering and still progress on a reasonable time schedule.

Anger continued to provide career guidance and mentoring long after I completed his class. As I neared graduation, he surprised me with an offer of a part-time job helping his staff conduct neurobehavioral research at the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health. I jumped at the chance. Working in his lab became the springboard to my career as a behavioral scientist. His recommendations and mentoring opened doors for me, leading to promotion opportunities, my pursuit of a master’s degree in experimental psychology at Xavier and, eventually, selection for a highly competitive long-term training program that led to my doctorate in social psychology.

Anger has long since left Cincinnati and now directs research programs at the Oregon Health & Sciences University.

While, at best, we may only exchange Christmas letters now, I will always hold him in high esteem and credit him with influencing some of my most significant life decisions. How amazing when you think about it: A part-time faculty member had a dramatic impact on a young mother struggling to find her self-worth while balancing home, work and school. Now, I teach psychology classes part time at Xavier. Every so often, I find myself putting a little extra effort into advising and encouraging a promising student or one who is struggling to balance work, home and school. It’s a small thing for me to do, but I hope it makes a difference for them.
Carol Merry Stephenson,’EC81 BS, ’91 MA, NIOSH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Second Chances: Richard Deters, S.J., Dean of Evening Studies

I arrived in Cincinnati as a 15-year-old refugee from Cuba and, while my command of the English language had grown to conversational, it was still far below the requirements of college work. I tried studying at Villa Madonna College in Covington, Ky., but in an era before English as a second language classes or remedial language tutoring, it was a great struggle. My grades were below passing and the Villa Madonna registrar suspended me and suggested I get acquainted with a leaf blower.

One balmy September evening, I found myself in front of Richard Deters, S.J., who was dean of Xavier’s evening studies program, making a heartfelt appeal for a second chance. This would be the first of many meetings with Deters as he tried to untangle some salvageable grade to transfer from my Villa Madonna transcript. Fortunately for me, he found enough there to allow me to enroll.

Not without struggles and setbacks, I completed my Bachelor of Science four years later and found meaningful and fulfilling work that progressively led to a position as director of business development for Lockheed Martin Corp. In some indirect way, Deters also led to the opportunity, 20 years later, for my daughter also to graduate from Xavier and to become a practicing attorney.

The memory of Deters’ patience and charity-allowing me that second chance-has colored my whole life and will influence generations to come. I, in turn, have had the opportunity to assist others, so that his gift continues to flower.
Luis A. Sastre ’69 BS, director of business development, Lockheed Martin Corp.

Looking Within: Tyrone Williams, English

“But will you be happy?” he asked.

I hadn’t even considered the question. I had merely considered myself incredibly fortunate to have a job after graduation. Taking a job at an insurance company was perfectly logical. I had connections there. I had experience, stability and a reasonable salary. But I hadn’t stopped to ask myself if it was what I wanted. It took Tyrone Williams to challenge me to consider that.

It really should have come as no surprise. Without exception, Williams’ courses were the most challenging and difficult in my Xavier career. He incessantly pushed me to more complex levels of thinking and writing, and he certainly had no trouble bursting my bubble on any number of papers or exams.

So here he was, pushing me again-being the thorn in my side. Being a nagging voice in my head. Being, in fact, a true friend and mentor.

I did take the job with the insurance company, but I also started working toward my master’s degree in education at Xavier. Eventually, I chose to leave both fields to build my family, and I have never regretted it. And, although I haven’t spoken with Williams in years, I often think of him asking me, “But are you happy?” And I smile back and say, “Yes! And thank you so much for asking.”
Toni Otto Alander ’94 BAU, homemaker

Another Second Chance: Richard Deters, S.J.

I graduated in 1966 and like Luis Sastre, I too am one of Fr. Deters’ reclamation projects. He allowed me to transfer into Xavier from University of Kentucky-Extension, Covington 60 credits and the now longtime defunct Chase College of Commerce about 15 credits. Additionally, my life was really a mess by the time I was a teenager, and the only good thing I had done was join the Army when I was 18. I really needed a chance, and Fr. Deters cut me a fantastic break.

At the dinner for evening college graduates, Fr. Deters handed my an envelope and told me to read it the next day. The short letter began with the words, “We are happy to tell you that you have been accepted into the MBA program…” and so forth. Please note I had never applied because it was beyond my budget. Moreover, I had never discussed graduate school with anyone. Attached were my completed application for the graduate school and eligibility and application for VA benefits. I was completely unaware, I had recently become eligible for VA benefits. On top was a hand written note from Fr. Deters, “Sign all this stuff and get it back to me ASAP.” I did and received my M.B.A. several years later. While in graduate school, I also became a C.P.A. and am now retired after seven years in public accounting and 30 years with Internal Revenue Service.

If it had not been for Fr. Deters’ kindness and faith in me, I certainly would not have done as well as I have both in my professional life and personal life. I am happily married for 41 years and I am a father and grandfather.
Clyde Denney Foster ’66BBA/’73MBA

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