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Fond Reflections: An Interview with Former TLC Directors and Co-Directors

Jan Stahl, English, and Jill Richardson, English

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In honor of our 20th Anniversary in which we celebrate the TLC/CETLS’ present and past, we proudly share interviews with eleven former TLC directors and co-directors.

Read on for the reminiscences of our former TLC leaders!

FACULTY FOCUS: What do you remember about the TLC when you first became active, and about your particular “era” of involvement?

PROF. EVA KOLBUSZ-KIJNE, Speech, Communication and Theatre Arts (co-director from 2009-2010): I was active in the TLC before I became a co-director. I participated since 2005 in numerous presentations, President’s Coffee and Roundtable sessions, and open houses. All of these events gave me the opportunity to meet people outside my department.

The TLC helped me to orient myself to what was available at BMCC for new faculty and to what was expected of me as a new faculty member. I especially enjoyed meeting new colleagues.

PROF. MABEL ASANTE, Developmental Skills (co-director from 2008-2010): I became active in the TLC in fall 2003, as Developmental Skills liaison. In my first year, I was a member of the Correspondence Committee. Then, in 2004, I was selected in the board lottery as a member of the board, and was appointed as a co-chair of the Correspondence Committee.

At the time of my initial involvement, the board was very actively patronized by faculty from across the disciplines. We collaborated on a number of board events, such as the monthly board meetings, Open House, Publications Day, Technology Day, and President’s Coffee and Roundtable sessions. We also moderated faculty presentations. During this period, I observed with amazement members’ dedication, enthusiasm, and team spirit. My involvement with the TLC provided an opportunity to gain college leadership skills and to learn about faculty in other disciplines.

PROF. BRAHMADEO DEWPRASHAD, Science (co-director from 2007-2009): I became active in the TLC way before I served as co-director, perhaps around 2003. What attracted me to attending TLC sponsored events and serving on committees was the camaraderie of the faculty members involved in the TLC.

PROF. SHERRY ENGLE, Speech, Communications and Theatre Arts (co-director from 2006-2008): I recall a vital group of faculty members from various departments coming together to discuss all aspects of teaching and to openly share problems and frustrations. As a junior faculty member, I was initially drawn to the TLC for support and encouragement. I enjoyed getting to know others outside my own department and gained a broader perspective of BMCC. In a very real sense, being a part of the TLC helped shape my identity in the profession of teaching.

PROF. NKECHI AGWU, Mathematics (co-director from 2003-2004; director in spring semester of 2005; co-director fall semester of 2005 – 2006): I became involved in the TLC in the fall semester of 1995. This was my first semester at BMCC and I was an adjunct faculty member.

The first event I attended was the Open House. At this event, I had a welcoming and open conversation with TLC Director, Professor Barbara Kole, Continuing Education, about teaching, learning and faculty development at BMCC. Our conversation motivated her interest in mentoring me in service and leadership at the TLC. She encouraged and nurtured my participation in TLC activities including consideration of service as a future member of the TLC board.

Since 1995 to the year of my first assignment as TLC co-director, I served in the TLC in a variety of leadership and service capacities including service as either a member or a chair of every committee of the TLC. One of these roles was the co-editor of Faculty Focus with Professor Sidney Askew, Accounting. My leadership and service in all these areas prepared me effectively for leadership of and advocacy for the TLC during its transformative years and the historical period of its 15th year. 

PROF. NIDIA PULLÉS-LINARES, Modern Languages (co-director from 2003-2004): The TLC was a place where you could connect with faculty from various departments and disciplines, discuss teaching and learning issues, and find out about Faculty grants.

PROF. JOYCE HARTE, English (director from 2001-2003): I became director of the TLC the semester that the World Trade Center was attacked. I was a new director with a new board just trying to find our way when the attack occurred. You can imagine what that did to us, as it did to everyone. After we returned to the college, we all worked to try to bring a semblance of peace to our lives and the TLC became one of the forums where people read their pieces and talked our way towards healing.  

PROF. SUSANA POWELL, Speech, Communications and Theatre Arts, (co-director from 1999-2001): The TLC was initially called the Teaching Center. Maria [De Vasconcelos] and I suggested and succeeded in changing the name from “Teaching Center” to “Teaching and Learning Center” to emphasize that we, as teachers, are still learning. The fact that “TLC” meant “Tender Loving Care” was a consideration. Maria and I kept Open House Hours in which nothing specific was scheduled. We referred to this as the time for “tea and sympathy” – we were there to chat and to give faculty and staff support. People knew they could go to the TLC and talk confidentially.

Also my tenure was the first time the TLC had two co-directors instead of one director.

PROF. MARIA DE VASCONCELOS, English (co-director from 1999-2001): I remember that prior to my tenure as co-director the Center had one director, not two co-directors. I was invited to be a director and had some concerns about directing by myself. I believe Susana Powell was also invited to be a director. She approached me and suggested that we could become co-directors. I was easily convinced. I trusted Susana and I had common goals, a love and respect for our students, and the same nature of ethics that would be a good collaboration.

During our leadership the TLC was active. Numerous presentations and workshops took place. The TLC provided a free space for comfortable debate and a safe haven for academic discourse. Susana [Powell] and I kept Open House Hours – time offered to faculty and staff to come to the TLC, for them to read the materials in the TLC, or just to talk about any issue or problem in their professional and private lives. Collegiality was strongly developed.

When Susana [Powell] and I finished our term, we were invited by our board members to continue our leadership. Susana and I decided not to continue so that we could give other professors the opportunity to become visible and to give their vision to the TLC.

PROF. DAVID KNIGHT, Accounting (director from 1997-1999): The parties at Christmas and for the adjuncts were fabulous. I had a super board, including Susana [Powell] and Maria [De Vasconcelos]. I learned a lot about teaching different types of learners and improved my sensitivity to cultural differences.

PROF. JUNE GASTON, Mathematics: (director from 1993-1995): The main goal was to continue faculty development in across-the-curriculum efforts: reading, writing, speaking, listening, and integrating computer technology. I think the level of involvement was steadily growing. 

FACULTY FOCUS:  Reflecting on the years of your leadership as director or co-director, what would you describe as your particular contributions or changes to the TLC?

PROF. KOLBUSZ-KIJNE: Aside from my usual duties of co-director, I spent quite a bit of my time working on the transition to the new CETLS format. The TLC format started being somewhat outdated in light of what was expected of new faculty. As I attended meetings at similar faculty centers from across CUNY, I realized that the TLC was closer to a faculty club than a true center that would help faculty with teaching and scholarship. I served on the search committee for a new full-time director.

The process of finding a full-time director took twice as long as we thought it would but in the end BMCC hired Dr. Victoria (Tori) Mondelli, an extremely competent and faculty-sensitive director. Frankly I had not believed prior to meeting Tori that we could find such a well-rounded and kind person for this position.

PROF. ASANTE: During the period when I was co-director with Prof. Dewprashad, one thing that comes to mind is the introduction of the theme-based calendar. This involved selecting a theme and basing the programs of events on it. Examples of themes included, “harnessing our intellectual and institutional resources” and “fostering faculty success.” The theme-based calendar was effective, as we were able to develop a program of activities for a whole semester. This new initiative continued into my second year as co-director with Prof. Kolbusz-Kijne.

PROF. DEWPRASHAD: I initiated a regular column on Pedagogy (the first of which I contributed) in Faculty Focus. In addition, with my co-directors (Sherry Engle, and then Mabel Asante) we started longer tem planning of events so that faculty could become aware of events and mark them on their calendars at the beginning of a semester. In addition, we started faculty development activities specifically aimed at new faculty.
PROF. ENGLE: Prior to being co-director, I served on the programming committee and helped organize such events as Faculty Creative Arts Day and Publication Day. I took over as Editor of Faculty Focus when there was a need and ended up staying with that position for a while and enjoying it. With Dean Gillespie’s guidance, we worked to make the Faculty Focus more than a simple “newsletter,” adding more articles and features written by TLC members, along with photos. We added color for a special issue, not an easy accomplishment, since it was prior to our current online publication.

My tenure as co-director, as I reflect on it, was both exciting and difficult.  At that time the TLC was beginning to shift in a new direction, but there were many who preferred the traditions that had evolved over fifteen years. I saw trends at other schools, talked with administration and began to envision other possibilities for us. Even so, things were not yet in place for the changes that eventually did take place. I see my role as that of a “transitional” leader who planted seeds.

PROF. AGWU: co-director Prof. Pullés-Linares, the board, and I advocated for a permanent computer workstation and the Office of Academic Affairs provided us with this. Additionally, the TLC gained a beautified, improved and re-designed conference room with new and cozier furniture, walled artwork, better library cabinets, a wealth of library books and resource materials. TLC members helped to galvanize this process by donating artwork and books. Professor Hyacinth Martin, Nursing, was a driving force in initiating donations of artwork. The synergy level for giving back to the TLC by faculty members was on the rise and so was friendship and comradeship.

TLC programming during these years also increased.  New special interest groups were initiated. Two significant special interest groups initiated were the Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) BMCC Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) group led by myself and Brahmadeo Dewprashad, and the Globalization/International Education Group led by myself and Nidia Pullés-Linares, an outcome of the Salzburg Faculty and Student Exchange experiences.

The academic years of 2003-2006 were transformative ones. The college administration took a critical and positive look at the TLC aligned with a vision and mission of excellence in teaching, learning and faculty development. In 2004, the TLC board approved the formation of the Assessment Committee, chaired by Prof. Dolores DeLuise, English, and charged the Bylaws Committee with reviewing the TLC Bylaws for structural re-organization based on the outcomes of the assessment conducted by the Assessment Committee. Prior to this, TLC assessment had a more informal approach, based on end-of-year committee reports, board meeting minutes and reports of the directors/co-directors to the Dean and/or Vice President of Academic Affairs.

An important outcome of the report of the Assessment Committee was the need for re-structuring the process of selection of the TLC board and its leadership to a staggered process of turn-over of the board and its leadership rather than a process of turn-over at the same time. This would allow for continuity, archiving of historical records and the grooming and nurturing of TLC leadership. The revised Bylaws were passed by the board in spring 2005 and accepted by the college administration in the same semester.

The tenure of faculty directors/co-directors was two years. However, mine was three years due to the changes being made in the TLC’S organizational structure. I call it destiny and God working in miraculous ways in that a historian by profession was at the helm of leadership of the TLC during its 15th anniversary and that under normal conditions of a two year tenure this would not have happened.

PROF. PULLÉS-LINARES: Nkechi Agwu and I worked in conjunction with TLC members to create the TLC website to provide information on upcoming events and provide an official email address to facilitate communication with the TLC. We also began postings on college-wide Lotus Notes. We increased the acquisition of books for the TLC library. We helped initiate special Faculty Focus newsletters to profile new faculty members and to introduce them to the college community.

We were able to spearhead the acquisition of a PC to accompany the LCD projector at the TLC for presentations that required technology. Prior to this, there was no computer at the TLC.

Last but not least, our group added to the aesthetics of the TLC. We lobbied for a more professional look. The furniture we now have at CETLS wasn’t there before our tenure. Nkechi [Agwu] worked particularly hard to make the TLC a comfortable, professional, and vital space.

PROF. HARTE: I think that we had several changes that were especially good. I particularly like the “Food For Thought” series that we introduced. We had some wonderful conversations about teaching over our bag lunches.\

I am also proud of the collaborations that we had with various other committees such as the Faculty Development Committee and the Women’s Studies Project.

PROF. POWELL: Maria [De Vasconcelos] and I initiated the Balancing the Curriculum Seminar because we had both participated in the CUNY-wide seminar at Hunter and thought BMCC would benefit from a mini-version.

I was editor of Faculty Focus and initiated the interview format.

PROF. DE VASCONCELOS: Susana [Powell] and I contributed to a collegial atmosphere in the TLC. Colleagues visited the Open House Hours and we discussed among other things, styles of teaching, classroom problems, conference themes, and books.

Susana [Powell] and I also formally and informally started the mentoring of junior faculty. And Susana and I implemented the Balancing the Curriculum Seminar, based on a one year long CUNY seminar at Hunter College on Gender, Race, and Ethnicity. Susana and I had attended the seminar at Hunter and we wanted to implement a mini version of it at BMCC. We would have one meeting a month at the TLC. Prior to the meetings, we distributed articles and novel excerpts for participants to read in advance and discuss at the meetings. The meetings were designed to help colleagues integrate into their curriculum elements related to gender, race, and ethnicity. The monthly meetings had a large attendance.

PROF. KNIGHT: My main contribution was encouraging Susana [Powell] and Maria [De Vasconcelos] to become the co-directors.

PROF. GASTON: My contributions involved a focus on more collaborative activities. When my tenure ended, I recommended that the TLC be more actively involved in efforts to mentor new faculty, and to increase faculty development in such areas as instructional technology and effective teaching and learning on a multicultural campus.

By highlighting TLC technology initiatives, I received a National Council of Instructional Administrators (NCIA) Honorable Mention for “A Program of Faculty & Staff Development Centered on the Application of Technology at Borough of Manhattan Community College.”

FACULTY FOCUS: What is your fondest or most exciting memory of the TLC?

PROF. KOLBUSZ-KIJNE: My fondest experience from the transition of the TLC to the CETLS is that the new director, Dr. Tori Mondelli, is of the same school of thought as I am. I’m happy that the CETLS provides the opportunity for all faculty members to meet others with similar scholarly interests, especially if they are members of different departments.

In my opinion the creation of the FIGs (Faculty/Staff Interest Groups) is the best professional development within CETLS in the last year and a half. The fact that FIGs are so numerous proves that faculty needed a platform for exchanging ideas and offering support for research and publication. I’m especially grateful to Tori [Mondelli] for creating just the right atmosphere.

PROF. ASANTE: My fondest memory is that the Center was/is a place where faculty from across the college were/are united with a common vision and purpose, with senior faculty serving as informal mentors for new faculty.

PROF. DEWPRASHAD: The TLC was a place where I could learn from other colleagues on how to improve my teaching and facilitate student learning. 

PROF. ENGLE: It was exciting having our first “Fall Retreat” with TLC members who came together on an entire Friday to brainstorm over the future of the TLC and programming.  But I do believe my fondest memories concern working with wonderful colleagues and serving first with Prof. Manawendra Roy, Computer Information Systems, and then with Prof. Dewprahshad. It was a privilege to have served as co-director with them.

PROF. AGWU: Through the process of transforming the TLC, I was gradually transformed into being a social science scholar or cultural anthropologist and a community grass-roots leader and advocate.  My scholarship and interest in ethnomathematics, service learning, innovation and creativity was also undergoing transformation.  Those three years of leadership were not an easy road.  However, it was a road well worth walking both for the TLC and also for me.

This interview once again provides me with the opportunity to say special thanks to all those from every office and department at the college who helped to shape my leadership years at the TLC and move the process of its transformation.

PROF. PULLÉS-LINARES: Working with faculty, sharing with them, listening to their ideas and their presentations comprise my fondest memories of the TLC. The Open Houses and end of year parties created camaraderie. I developed a friendship with Nkechi [Agwu] that I have to this day.

PROF. HARTE: I found the Publications Day event given at the end of my tenure an especially exciting one. I had never seen the TLC so transformed. There was just a lot of excitement in the air. The members of that committee did an especially great job.

PROF. POWELL: My fondest memories of the TLC involve working with co-director Maria De Vasconcelos. We had a working partnership in which we complemented each other. We set up the Balancing the Curriculum Seminar and had support for this from Administration. Setting that up was innovative, creative, and important. Maria and I started our tenure as a working relationship and this grew into a deep friendship that continues today.

PROF. DE VASCONCELOS: The TLC emerged as a true democratic space in which rigorous intellectual discourse was intertwined with a web of support for all junior faculty allowing for the exchange of our concerns as teachers and colleagues.

My respect for and friendship with my co-director Susana Powell grew and deepened as we worked together. I admire her working skills and generosity of spirit.

PROF. KNIGHT: Dean Janis Jones held a blowout luncheon in Richard Harris Terrace at the end of my two-year term as director, and, as we all used to say at the time, “the Teaching Center really rocked.”

PROF. GASTON: One of my most memorable moments was working with Prof. Bill Friedheim, Social Sciences, to schedule a presentation highlighting powerful new software for a social science course. I think I was almost as excited about the simulations as he was, and certainly a little envious that we did not yet have anything comparable for mathematics.

Editors’ Note: Dr. Patricia Wilkinson, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, spoke to Prof. Jan Stahl as this article was going into press. Dr. Wilkinson, who was one of the authors of the grant which founded the Teaching Center, extends her “congratulations on 20 years of exciting exchanges at the TLC!” 

The editors of Faculty Focus wish to extend a special thank you to Prof. Joe Bisz, English, and Prof. Jack Estes, Social Sciences, for their interviews printed in the 15th Anniversary edition of Faculty Focus (Spring 2006) with Prof. June Gaston, Prof. David Knight, and Prof. Joyce Harte, which are reprinted here.