Post Classifieds

Better than Harvard? Diana on Westfield

By Emma Moser
On October 24, 2013

 

When  a  rising  PhD  graduate  of  Arizona  State  University  sendoff  an  application  for  her  first  full-­time teaching  position  to  Westfield  State,  her  dissertation  advisor  raised  an  eyebrow.    "But  Vanessa,"  she asked  her  young  advisee.  "how  will  you  write  your  way  out  of  that  job?"

Fourteen  years  later,  Professor  Vanessa  Holford  Diana  has  no  intention  of  leaving  "that  job"  anytime soon.

"I  do  love  it  here,"  says  Diana,  who  teaches  English  and  serves  as  Assistant  Director  of  the  Honors Program.    "I  have  no  interest  in...  going  elsewhere."

Her  options  have  never  been  limited.    When  she  came  as  a  teaching  candidate  in  2000,  she  carried  a baby  on  each  arm  and  an  impressive  resume  in  her  bag.    She  had  graduated  summa  cum  laude  from both  East  Stroudsburg  University  and  Lehigh  University,  for  her  Bachelor's  and  Master's  degrees, respectively.    Her  PhD  studies  at  Arizona  State  University,  where  she  taught  part-­time,  focused  on writers  of  ethnic  diversity.    Within  its  population  of  over  50,000,  Diana  felt  removed  from  her  students at  ASU,  where  it  was  not  uncommon  to  meet  students  in  freshman  composition  and  never  hear  from them  again.

"It  was  very  impersonal  and  felt  like  a  big  factory,"  says  Diana.    "That  wasn't  for  me." But  during  her  interview  process  at  Westfield  State,  she  was  immediately  struck  by  the  more  personalinteractions  with  students.    She  recalls  one  day  when,  after  teaching  a  sample  class,  a  student  whispered "Good  luck"  to  her  as  she  was  leaving  the  classroom.

"I  remember  thinking,  Wow,  the  students  are  really  nice  here,"  says  Diana.

The  teachers,  she  soon  discovered,  were  equally  welcoming.    At  the  end  of  her  interview  process, faculty  of  the  English  department  gave  her  a  party  at  the  home  of  Glen  Brewster,  current  Director  of  the Honors  Program.

"It  was  chili  and  beer,  and  people's  kids  were  there."  Diana  recalls  with  a  laugh.    "These  were  folks who  clearly  liked  being  around  each  other."

Since  that  time,  Diana  has  been  hooked.    Living  within  walking  distance  from  campus  with  her  husband and  two  children,  she  keeps  herself  busy  at  the  college  she  now  affectionately  calls  her  second  home.    In the  English  department,  she  has  become  a  symbol  of  cultural  diversity,  teaching  courses  in  ethnic literature  while  dressing  in  India-­  and  Tibet-­inspired  clothing.    "She  brings  positive  energy  to  every  class and  helps  us  think  twice  about  the  way  we  read  literature."  says  Tatiana  Flores,  who  has  taken  Black American  and  Native  American  Literature  with  Diana.    "She  is  the  teacher  that  every  English  major, rather  student,  aspires  to  be."

Diana's  enthusiasm  and  fun-­loving  personality  also  shines  through  her  work  in  the  Honors  Program, where  she  endeavors  to  give  students  a  dynamic  college  experience  with  scholarly  projects,  community service,  and  pizza  parties.    "She  is  committed  to  helping  those  she  mentors  find  fulfillment  and  success along  their  journey."  says  Gretchen  Konrad,  Administrative  Assistant  of  the  Honors  Program.

In  her  work,  Diana  is  inspired  by  what  she  insists  are  brilliant,  Harvard-­quality  students  and  teachers. "It's  all  the  wonderful...  exchange  of  ideas,  with  none  of  the  pretense  and  attitude  and  ego  that  can  be  a real  turn-­off  at  higher-­ed."  she  says.    In  her  background  of  bigger,  more  expensive  universities,  Diana often  witnessed  a  sense  of  entitlement  among  the  students  and  faculty  there.    Here  at  Westfield,however,  she  feels  surrounded  by  people  who  don't  take  education  for  granted.    "We've  stripped  away all  that  ivory-­tower  sense  of  being  privileged."  she  says.    "We're  here  because  we  want  to  learn  and take  away  from  these  four  years  what  we  need  for  the  next  stage  in  our  lives."


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