By Naia Fermino

How has COVID-19 effected your plans for this semester/retirement? 

“Well, it hasn’t changed my plan to retire, but it’s certainly changed a number of plans that I had for the end of the semester.  For instance, I was hoping to connect with more alumni.  I had a goal of 37 former students, and I think I was up to about 10 or 12.  We were taking pictures together and catching up and I was going to make a book for myself.

And, colleagues were helping me plan a retirement party, and that’s on hold.  But all of those things can happen later.

I’m sad and disappointed not to have graduation as we usually do, but I imagine we’ll postpone that, and I’ll be able to participate to see some of my favorite students graduate.”

What’s your grand perspective on the impacts COVID-19 will have on education?

“I think we’ve learned that there are assumptions we make about our students that negatively impact their educational experience.  I believe this is true no matter where they are studying.   Not all students are as tech savvy as we’d like to believe and many of them are not equipped to do what it takes to stay organized and focused without the traditional classroom experience.

And unfortunately, there are plenty of students who don’t have access to reliable equipment or internet service that puts them at a disadvantage….and just because they don’t ask for help, doesn’t mean they don’t need it!

We’ve learned that there are a lot more creative ways to teach and to connect, that’s a good thing. But I hope this has also taught us that online learning is not the best and most effective way for everyone to learn as well as to maintain the integrity of courses and our expectations.” 

How long do you think we will remain a remote learning campus?

“I have colleagues from all over public and private colleges across the state.  All of them are being told to prepare for remote learning in the fall.  The longer this goes on and the more I learn about the need to slowly re-open and continue to be careful about our everyday practices, the more convinced I am that we will be holding classes remotely in the fall.  But, since I’m no scientist, this is truly just an observation and opinion.”

How are you coping with this crisis and what advice do you have for others?

“I’m trying to keep some routine.  I think that not altering your sleeping or eating habits is important for your overall wellbeing.  I also have a lot of friends and family that I take time to talk to, whether via zoom (there have been some fun gatherings) or by phone.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t have time for that, because schoolwork has definitely increased how many hours I spend on the computer.  Then I remind myself that I need that time to connect with others, especially since I live alone.  I also have great neighbors, and we chat every day or so, each standing in our own yards.  And then there’s my golden retriever, who I make sure to get out for a nice long walk on the beach every day.  And don’t forget, there’s always time for a glass of wine at the end of the day.”

Out of all your years at Cape Cod Community College (4Cs) is online classes something you’ve done before? Do you or do you not prefer them?

“I’ve really never wanted to teach online.  I find that getting to know students personally face to face is where I really excel.  Over the years I have definitely embraced the opportunities to work remotely with students, helping them edit outlines and papers through shared documents, but that works best for me because I’ve already established a relationship with them in the classroom. For me, what has made this remote learning work is that I know my students and they understand my style.  But I have to say it’s been incredibly disappointing and hard to watch how overwhelming this situation has been for so many of them.

If I were to teach strictly online in the future, I would definitely take the lessons I’ve learned these past few weeks!”

What is one of your fondest or proudest memories here at the college?

“There are many, but the one that comes to mind is from a long while ago.  There was a time during my tenure at 4C’s that I taught theater as well as communication.  As part of my teaching load, I directed a play called As Is which was all about the AIDS crisis.  This was at a time when people weren’t really talking much about AIDS and the college needed to talk about it and learn about it.   Recently, I had a former student find a videotape of the play in his parents’ attic and give it to me.  I had it converted to CD and had copies made for those students who I still was in touch with.  When I watched it, I was overwhelmed by the bravery of those students who agreed to put themselves out there in a time when our culture was not as open or understanding.  To this day, I can’t believe how willing they were to trust me and to do such an amazing job.  Years later, I had another opportunity where the learning disability support group had a playwright work with them to develop a play, which we then produced.  It was another opportunity to educate the college and the public about the challenges of living with a learning disability that was frank, honest, sometimes painful, sometimes funny, but incredibly powerful and important.  Those moments are ones that really helped me, and the students grow and I will always be proud of that work.”

Do you remember what your first day at 4Cs was like 37 years ago?

“I came to the college from upstate New York where I had been in graduate school.  I knew absolutely no one in the state of Massachusetts.  I was scared and excited, but mostly nervous.  There were many who supported me and held me up in those early days and I’m grateful for their friendship and guidance.  The students in those first classes became my friends and some of them I still call friends to this day.  I do remember being invited by President Hall to attend a social hour with new faculty where they served sherry…something I’d never experienced before.  I felt a bit like a fraud as I was so much younger than everyone else, it was unnerving.  It’s pretty funny to reflect on what it was like to be the brand new, younger faculty member now that I’m retiring!”

What would you say to new professors just starting out?

“One of the things that I learned over the years was to trust myself and try hard to not be so controlling over how things ‘need to be done’.  I think when you feel insecure, you insist things get done a certain way because you don’t want to mess up.  I’d sum it up with this:

Learn to be creative.  It will help you solve your problems, and your students will appreciate it.

Learn to let go.  Because maybe those students have a better way or a more creative idea.

Learn to laugh at yourself.  Don’t take yourself so seriously, it’s not necessary.”

What’s one of the most important things being a professor has taught you?

“Without a doubt…both patience and empathy.”

What’s something on your wish list for retirement?

“Travel for sure.  I’m hoping to get to more places that have been on my bucket list for years.

Mostly I’m looking to do those things that I’ve spent too much time putting off because ‘I’ll do them later.’  It’s been a bad habit of mine and I hope to correct that starting June 1st. (see, I’m still putting it off).”