With this semester coming to a close, we all have had to say a lot of goodbyes to friends, students and faculty. This semester we will be saying goodbye to two beloved English faculty members. Dr. Jerry Van Aken and Dr. Nanette Tamer. I had the honor of interviewing them about their time here at Stevenson and their experiences as professors.
Did you always know you wanted to become a professor, or did it sort of just happen?
DR. VAN AKEN: “Dear God, if Career Architecture had existed when I was in college, I would have flunked it. I graduated having no idea of what I wanted to do. I only knew that I didn’t want to work in an office. Then, I discovered that I missed the classroom and the kind of excitement that discussing literature always generated. I discovered that I was an education junkie.”
DR. TAMER: “I didn't always know I wanted to be a professor. I only knew that I loved language! I took many language courses in high school and college, including French, Latin, Ancient Greek, and Italian. After earning my MA degree, I taught Latin in a high school. Then I worked for a publisher doing abstracting and indexing. After a few years, I began to see how I could combine my languages and my love for English Literature, so I went back to graduate school for my PhD to become a professor.”
How long have you been teaching at Stevenson University?
DR. VAN AKEN: “I started teaching at Villa Julie College in 1988, and I’ve watched the school grow from offering Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees from a Greenspring Valley campus that lacked the Manuczak and Dawson Centers, to offering Bachelor’s degrees and graduate degrees from the Greenspring Campus and the Owings Mills Campuses.”
DR. TAMER: “I have taught at Stevenson for 33 years, starting when it was Villa Julie College and continuing when it was renamed Stevenson University.”
Do You have any fond or memorable memories since teaching here at Stevenson?
DR. VAN AKEN: “The memories that I have aren’t of specific events but of a type of event, of classes where the impetus for discussion was unconsciously assumed by the students in the class and I was able to become a bystander and watch the learning unfold.”
DR. TAMER: “I have so many wonderful memories! The 1990s were an exciting time because we started the English Major then. Before that, our students had participated in the Liberal Arts and Technology degree instead. But the whole time I have been here I have had so many wonderful students and colleagues. 2015 was a special year also because I was awarded the Excellence in Teaching award. At the ceremony, I looked out at all my colleagues from the various departments, the librarians, and the staff, and told them that the good things I have been able to do entirely depended on collaborating with every single one of them!
On the last day of classes, a freshman asked me, "Will you remember us?" And of course I answered, "Of course I will!" I think back over the years about various students and the interesting things they said and wrote about. I love reading about their many achievements in the alumni magazine and when I hear from them.”
Would you say you have learned something new from the students you have taught and interacted with?
DR. VAN AKEN: “When I started teaching, I had a tendency to work with a lesson plan that was designed to have students respond to questions that were programmed to take them to a body of knowledge and ideas. I’ve since learned that you cannot treat one section of a class as if it were the same as another. Each class has its own identity and its own possibilities of interpretation and learning. You have to listen to students’ answers and respond to the possibilities of the conversation that they give you.”
DR. TAMER: “I learn something from every single student! Our students have such interesting backgrounds, some from nearby and some from other countries. I also learn from every student how to be a better teacher. Each time I read an essay, I think about what comments from me would benefit that particular student, not only for evaluating their work but also to help them learn the next skill or topic. Every student and every essay is unique, even over 33 years!”
Have you faced any great challenges as a professor?
DR. VAN AKEN: “Given my method of teaching using the Socratic method of asking questions, my greatest challenge has been classes where the overwhelming majority of students are passive learners and are unwilling to take chances. Unfortunately, passive learning is the dominant method found in most high schools and in many colleges.”
DR. TAMER: “Yes, many days are challenging trying to fit in not only teaching, but also writing articles and poems, along with participating in the university self-governance by faculty. However, just like for every teacher around the world, teaching during the pandemic was the hardest. I had never taught before without being able to see my students' faces to know whether they were understanding or not and to know when someone looked like they were ready to contribute.”
What do you plan to do with your retirement?
DR. VAN AKEN: “Enjoy the freedom to plan projects and set my own deadlines, and then, if I miss them, not sweat it.”
DR. TAMER: “The first thing I will do in my retirement is sleep for a month! Of course, I will spend a lot of time reading and with my Creative Writing group continuing to publish my own poems. Eventually, when my husband retires, we will move to North Carolina to be near to our daughter and our grand-toddler and our new grandbaby due in October.”
Is there anything you’d like to say to your students and peers as your goodbye?
DR. VAN AKEN: “In the sometimes harsh world that I found myself in, I tried to be kind and considerate of others, and I sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed. I hope the successes were greater than the failures. I hope the same for you. My fear is that your world will be harsher than mine was and that your job will be more difficult than mine was. Still, I hope you’ll try to be kind.”
DR. TAMER: “Yes, I want to thank all of them for helping me do what I have loved to do!”
Both faculty members will be greatly missed and we wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors!