By Kelsey Vanwey
Before heading to Rooney Library at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College on April 10 for a reception celebrating faculty work, professor Jennie Mitchell faced a tough wardrobe choice: wear a t-shirt for a project that she and her colleagues did for a Motorola Mobility Grant, or stay in her professional business attire.
She ultimately decided to go with her cute, honeybee inspired t-shirt. As she visited with colleagues and administrators, the t-shirt worked well with her display of a project for the local children’s museum.
But when it came time for the annual faculty awards, Mitchell realized the description of the winner of the Alumnae Faculty Leadership award was her, and a look of complete surprise covered her face. Not only because she won, but because of the shirt she was wearing. As the photo was taken, Mitchell tried to hide behind the representative giving the award, and the crowd laughed with her and told her it was not a big deal.
But anyone who knows Mitchell knows she wasn’t satisfied with that, and she had the photo re-taken so she could be photographed in professional attire
Mitchell is retiring after a 24-year reign as a professor at SMWC. I met with her to discuss how she felt about retiring, receiving the award, and more.
Q: How do you feel about retirement?
A: “I still have mixed feelings about it because I love to teach, I love to learn new things, and I really get a kick out of seeing students actually use something that I’ve taught them in their work. So I think it’s a mixed blessing because I am still going to teach in the MLD (Master’s of Leadership Development) program and I still want to teach some in the 3 + 1 (program) in the business area but I know it won’t be quite the same, you know, I’m not going to have that kind of interaction because they are all going to be distance kind of classes and webinars; although the MLD I do meet with them.”
Q: What are you most looking forward to about retirement?
A: “I have talked for a while about how I want to go to Italy to follow the roots of Luca Pacioli who is considered as the father of accounting. I have always considered doing a Fulbright Scholar and I’ve discovered that if I’m an Emeritus faculty, which I qualify for, that I will be able to do those kinds of things. I have been working on Italian for two years. Another thing I want to do is my husband’s a historian for 29 years and taught history, and I want to write a historical novel. I’ve actually written out the plot of one. So retirement for me is looking at new chapters. I still want to learn new things I’m working on becoming XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language) certified. So I still want to do this but I know I’m going to miss some things I do.”
Q: What will you miss about teaching here at the Woods?
A: “I’ve talked a little bit about the interaction with the students, the interaction with the faculty, lots of them I consider very close friends and I know I’m going to miss some of that. I will definitely miss that kind of interaction. I do plan to come to campus every once in a while, but it will be rare.”
Q: What is different about SMWC from when you started?
A: “A HUGE thing that’s different … when I came here we had no Internet on campus and I actually started the first Internet on campus and I got a grant and we put the one Internet station over in the library. We used CompuServe I had this grant that would cover it but I didn’t throttle it. We had international students here and in the first month they used $700 worth of service. So they pretty much blew my grant. I learned a really tough lesson then so we had to throttle it. So imagine having no Internet on this campus. The biggest change I would say for the college has been technology. Also I think that we’ve grown closer to the Sisters of Providence even though we have less sisters teaching.”
Q: Do you have any advice for new faculty?
A: “One of the things I would say to new faculty is pour a lot of time in a course before you ever teach it. Put some time into it; the more you put in it at the beginning the better the course will run and the more the students will enjoy it. It’s not uncommon for me to spend 40 hours on course development. We can’t just use a textbook to rely on for a class. You have to bring in your experiences, you have to bring in your unique talent to interact with students. Everybody has something or they wouldn’t be teaching. They’ve got something that is unique to them and they need to capitalize on that.”
Q: What kept you here all these years?
A: “Certainly not the money. As a CPA (certified public accountant) and CMA (certified management accountant) I can make huge money in the corporate field. I have made some money here while working on other projects. When I came here I felt like I was part of a bigger picture, that what I was doing was contributing to something special. I have always felt that way and when I drive through those gates there is just something about this place that makes you feel like you belong, like you’re on hallowed ground. I really feel like it’s been a real privilege to be here.
Before I came to meet you I had to drive around and look at all the beautiful trees. It’s no secret I think I own 35 (SMWC) t-shirts. I love this place. I do have a regret: I was thinking about this the other day when I was on SMWC’s Flickr site, I was looking for specific pictures. I noticed all the pictures on our student athletes. The soccer players, the cross country, the softball, the basketball. I think I’ve only attended in all my 24 years two to three events that were athletic events. I think we really need that new complex to draw us together around that group. I feel bad that I’ve not done that. I feel like I didn’t get to know that aspect of the college. Especially when I look through those pictures and I see some of the students that have been in my classes, I feel kind of bad that I didn’t support them that way. So that would be my one regret. Now that I’m retired maybe I can come to those events, especially if we get the new building.”
Q: How did it feel when you found out that you received the Faculty/Alumnae Award?
A: “I knew when they said 1989 it was probably me because that’s when I started. I’m very gratified. I am thrilled at the kind of comments that were said about me. It’s not the first time I’ve won that but this is the final time I’ll win it. So I’m really appreciative. I do want you to know that I had it retaken this morning. So you’re not going to see me in my bee t-shirt. Unless it leaks out, which who knows it could. I was very, very honored and very privileged. I think everyone that either goes here as a student, works here as a staff or faculty is very privileged to be part of this legacy that St. Mother Theodore gave us. I think we need to protect it with what we can.”