Thursday, April 30, 2009, marked the last day of my academic tenure at UPJ. It’s been 26 years since I moved into my first office in the CS department down in E&S in August, 1983. Twenty-six years might seem like a long time to some; to others, like my good buddy Bob Zellers, it's merely the beginning of what, for him, will be a distinguished tenure of over 40 years (God willing).
Over the past 26 years, because of my interdisciplinary background in Information Science, I’ve served on search committees in CS, Business, Communication, English, Foreign Languages, Psychology, and Education, as well as search committees for the Vice President of Student Affairs, Chairperson for the Natural Sciences division, Library personnel, Learning Resource Center, and Continuing Education. Based on this experience, I know that when final hiring decisions are made, they are made, sincerely and confidently, with a hope and a prayer.
I hope that the UPJ community, looking back, can feel well-pleased with the contribution I have made.
I taught for the first 12+ years for the CS department as a member of the Division of Natural Sciences. I’m especially grateful to Hube Callihan, Dennis McNair, Bill Brice, and George Trimitsis for their friendship and guidance during the early years when I was working towards promotion and tenure.
Then in 1995, my career-track at UPJ took a significant change of direction. In the Fall of that year, I was approached by Dr. David Dunlop, then Interim President of UPJ and, prior to that, Academic Dean, and, prior to that, Chair of the Division of Education (he subsequently became President of Shepherd University, West Virginia). Dave asked me if I would be interested in a new position opening up in Education. They needed a full-time, tenure-stream faculty to take care of Instructional Technology.
I leapt at the chance. Teaching has always been my forte. I love to teach; I love to help students learn. The thought of rounding out my career as a teacher in an environment where I could help tomorrow’s teachers prepare for their careers was exciting, to say the least. So I accepted on the spot. I interviewed with the Division of Education and the faculty endorsed Dr. Dunlop’s recommendation.
I was asked if I wanted to wait until the end of the academic year to make the transition from Natural Sciences to Education. I couldn’t wait; I switched right away--New Year, 1996.
The rest is history.
Needless to say, I am eternally grateful to the folks in the Ed Division for welcoming me aboard. I was immediately swept up into a round of meetings in preparation for a state inspection by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), which took place in the Fall of 1996. Karen Scanlon, also a new recruit to the division, but an experienced hand when it came to state inspections, was my office mate that first year, and her advice and calming presence were invaluable. Indeed, it has been a joy working with the faculty in the Division of Education. David Hayes, a meticulous chairperson, made sure that we stayed on top of changes demanded by PDE. More importantly, he kept our focus squarely on the students majoring in Education, insisting that we do everything possible to give them the guidance they needed to achieve their academic and career goals.
I must recognize others among the many colleagues on the faculty and staff who have helped to make my time at UPJ such a delight. I can’t name them all, but I must name a few.
Jerry Samples was a trooper when I told him I needed a sabbatical to take advantage of my Fulbright Scholarship to India. “We’ll deal with the problems,” he said right away. “You go!”
Nancy Brunberg, in the Natural Sciences division, was a constant and efficient friend. Don Gottwald and his team in the print shop were quite simply amazing in the way they consistently met whatever demands I/we made on them. Of course, Dan had the best role model of all in his former boss, Jim Fetchgo. Kevin Grady and his team in the Public Safety Office always responded swiftly and helpfully to my requests for assistance. I’m proverbially absent-minded and often had to call on them to bail me out when I forgot to bring my keys from home or when I locked them inside my office (one of the perks of my move to Education was that my office was right next to Public Safety, but when I worked in E&S someone from Public Safety had to hike down there).
Prior to emigrating from England to America, I taught for 17 years, around the world, in elementary and secondary schools. It was hard work. Children make huge demands on one’s time and energy—if one cares. The same is true, I have found, at the university level. If one cares, it’s hard work; or to put it another way, teaching is hard work when it’s heart work. But what has made my work at UPJ significantly less onerous has been the support that I have had from a devoted team of staff.
I already mentioned Nancy, Dan, and Kevin, but I have to recognize, too, Linda Just, Rick Povich, Sam Gemus, Rob Eckenrod, Bob Knipple, Jim Gyure, Kim Shook, Ralph Miller, Andrea Liebfried and Sharon Wilson, Janet Valine and her team in the Business Office, Jackie Schreier, Tom and Frank Dupnock, John Ziats, Georgine and the other folks in the Bookstore, Marilyn Alberter and her team in the Registrar’s Office (especially Donna Vickroy), Gladys Andrews, Bob Blaschak, Joe Parker, Darrel Bowman, Mike Kemock, Craig Gresko, Sheryl Smigla, Karen Clites, Wanda Ferguson, Linda Erwin, Shirley Richards, Judy Freedman, Pam Sabol, Betsy Goenner, Helen Golubic, Jeff Sernell, Patty Riddle (now retired, but she was directly instrumental in my being invited to join the Education Division), Joan Keirn, Kathy Patterson, Chris Stumpf, Jeanne Susko, and Loretta Zerby.
I guarantee I missed some special people, so forgive me each of you if I did.
There remain two UPJ constituencies I must thank: the several presidents during whose tenure I have served, and, no less important, my students.
I first met Frank Blackington, 19 year president of UPJ, on the Windber Country Club golf course. This was a few weeks before I was even on the payroll at UPJ. Jake Stiffler, then Director of Housing and Residence Life, had organized one of his thoroughly-enjoyable annual faculty-staff get-togethers--a golf scramble for faculty, staff, and their wives and friends.
I signed up for the tournament and was paired with President Frank Blackington, Finance Officer Jeff Lavine, and Public Safety Director Kevin Grady. The beauty of this foursome for me was that I was immediately given the opportunity to bond with significant administrative personnel at UPJ.
But what I especially loved about our scrambling foursome was that none of us was exactly skilled at golf. More to the point, none of us particularly cared.
We had a great time.
The most memorable moment for me was when, after we'd all hit our drives on one particular par 4, the one best shot which allowed us vague access to the green was one where the ball was nestled against the base of a tree, but on a side of the tree which only a left-hander could hit.
As it happens, I play left-handed when it comes to golf.
My teammates decided that our best chance at reaching the green was to play this shot which only a left-hander could play, and they trusted me to take care of the job.
I didn't, of course. I made a mess of it. I used my 5 iron to slash the ball just a few yards forward and still nowhere near the green.
Frank, our illustrious President, was next to play. He placed a ball at the base of the tree where mine had been, then stepped back a couple of yards.
"Bernie," he said, "give me your 5 iron."
He stood over the ball for a few seconds, glancing back and forth between the ball and the green. Then he let loose with a left-handed shot which caught the ball perfectly at the end of the down-swing and sent it sailing towards the green.
It rolled, miraculously, to within 3 feet of the cup, and one of us managed to pop it into the hole for a birdie.
The two other Presidents I have served under are Dr. Etheridge and Dr. Specter. I thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed working with and for both. They brought a refreshing change of pace to the job.
Last, but not least, I must thank the thousands of UPJ students I've had the pleasure to work with over the years. They challenged me as a teacher in myriad ways and I tried my best to rise to the challenge and help each of them achieve their academic and professional goals.
Let me end with one amusing anecdote.
When clearing out my office, I came across two pairs of pants in back of one of the drawers in the filing cabinet. I’d forgotten I’d put them there years ago when I was still teaching in the CS department. Here's the story:
One morning, early, I’d arrived in my office in E&S to prepare for an 8:00 am class. I bent down to get a book from the bottom shelf of the bookcase and rrrrrrrrrrip!--the seam in back of my pants was rent asunder.
What to do?
Well, I’ve always preached, to anyone who cares to listen, my favorite dictum: “No problems, only solutions!” I used a stapler to staple my pants back together and then, in class, moved very gingerly from place to place and NEVER turned my back to the students!
After class I dashed off to the mall and bought new pants to see me through the rest of the day.
Next day I came to school with two spare pairs of pants that forever after have quietly lurked in the back of my filing cabinet.
Needless to say, I’ve never needed them. Even if I had, they wouldn’t have fit and it would have taken a lot more than a stapler to get them on.
You know how it is: You just hang something in your closet for awhile and it shrinks two sizes.
Hey, the past 26 years have been a blast. Thank you one and all. Thank you again and again. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.